A higher education strike wave has hit Illinois and New Jersey as faculty and professional staff at four universities walk off their jobs. Education workers at Chicago State University (CSU), Governors State University (GSU), and Eastern Illinois University (EIU) – represented by University Professionals of Illinois (UPI, IFT Local 4100) – went on strike just days apart demanding a fair contract.
On the East Coast, three unions representing 15,000 educators, researchers, and clinicians at Rutgers University in New Jersey led the first faculty strike in university history. This strike wave shows that higher education workers are using unions to fight back against austerity and disinvestment in Black and Latino universities.
According to UPI Local 4100, CSU, EIU, and GSU Faculty have been bargaining with their employer for a combined total of 30 months.
Faculty and professional staff at the three universities are demanding fair wages and reduced workloads for professors and counselors. All three institutions serve nontraditional students whose success depends on access to resources and faculty support. CSU is Illinois’ only Predominately Black Institution; nearly 7 out of 10 students are Black, and more than 50% are low-income and first-generation. GSU is a minority-serving institution and an emerging Latino Serving Institution. EIU serves a majority Black and Brown or rural student population.
Faculty and professional staff at all three institutions are among the lowest-paid faculty in the state. All three institutions have also been the target of budget cuts while awarding raises and bonuses to university Presidents and other well-paid administrators.
On April 3, dozens of faculty and staff walked off the job at CSU. EIU followed on April 6. On April 11, GSU walked the picket line joined by their CSU and EIU union family, showing the interconnectedness of their struggles and the power of solidarity.
All three institutions received messages of solidarity from students, staff, unions, and elected officials. Community members took action, signing petitions, walking the picket line, and calling university administrators on behalf of the strikers. Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson spoke to CSU strikers on day 6, telling the crowd “Every single day, you’re not just educating, you’re loving and supporting and building families. That’s what this movement is about – to make sure that you all are protected in the work that you do and the people who rely upon you have the support and resources they need.”
Local 73 President Dian Palmer also spoke to CSU faculty on day 8 of their strike. “The people who made a difference in my life were my teachers and professors. They taught me what my rights were, where I need to be in society,” President Palmer told the crowd. “Stand tall, you are appreciated and needed more than you know.”
Fighting for a fair contract has led to a victory for CSU and EIU Faculty. During an EIU-UPI meeting, members voted to suspend the strike and consider the university’s last and final offer. After a 10-day strike, CSU faculty and professional staff announced a tentative agreement. GSU faculty remain on strike.
On April 10, educators, researchers, and counselors at Rutgers University made history. Three unions representing 15,000 faculty and professional staff went on strike for the first time in the university’s 256-year existence.
Striking education workers are demanding equal pay for equal work for adjunct faculty, guaranteed funding and a living wage for grad workers, a salary that keeps up with inflation, job security, affordable housing, and one union for all RU faculty and professional staff. According to Rutgers AAUP, the administration’s unrestricted financial reserves increased by 40% during the 2020-2021 school year, yet the University has proceeded with layoffs and budget cuts.
The week-long strike was suspended on April 14 when a tentative framework was reached between the unions and the RU administration. The frameworks include significant gains for workers, including retro pay, a 14% increase in salaries for full-time faculty and counselors, a 43.8% increase in the per-credit rate for part-time lecturers, more job security, and a commitment to provide university support for teaching and graduate assistants.
Student learning conditions are faculty teaching conditions. This strike wave shows that unions can bargain for the common good and to improve the lives of faculty and the students they serve.