U. of C. Grad students demand union contract

Staff Writer

Graduate Students United (GSU), the union attempting to win a labor contract for University of Chicago graduate students, marched from the Booth School of Business, 5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., to International House, 1414 E. 59th St., on Thursday, April 5, attempting to disrupt U. of C. President Robert Zimmer as he participated in a question-and-answer forum there.

GSU planned the protest to push the University administration towards negotiating with them. The union won a National Labor Relations Board-certified vote in October to become graduate student workers’ collective bargaining representative but withdrew from the NLRB process in February. The University is therefore no longer bound by law to negotiate with them.

“We’re here today because the University doesn’t meet us at the bargaining table,” said Daniela Palmer, a member studying evolutionary biology. “They need to listen to the strong vote that we had in October and engage in bargaining with us. If they’re truly committed to fostering the wellbeing of this community, they should engage with us directly on a contract that improves our working and teaching conditions.”

U. of C. computer science and statistics professor Yali Amit, representing the American Association of University Professors union, attacked Zimmer for his promotion of free speech, saying, “Free speech is a result of popular struggle” and that “a strong union movement across the country and the world is essential to protect free speech.” He said the president could either be a union proponent or “a representative of the plutocracy.”

At International House, astronomy and astrophysics student Gourav Khullar said GSU was protesting “because some of us grad workers aren’t making a living wage, because a single hospital visit costs us thousands of dollars, because grievance proceedings don’t grant proper justice and because we are angry.” He charged the administration with not trusting or caring about its graduate students. Recalling the recent U. of C. lecturers’ union’s success, he added, “It’s our turn now. Our time has come. And just like the galaxies in the universe, we shall persist.”

In turns, however, the GSU protest became as much about the April 3 UCPD shooting of undergraduate Charles Thomas as it was about the union contract. “It needs to be discussed how poorly these officers are handling victims who are dealing with mental health issues,” said Alycia Moaton, a Kenwood Academy student associated with the youth-led anti-violence coalition GoodKidsMadCity. “It was stated that Charles Thomas was going through a manic episode on the night of the shooting. There have been way too many incidents of mentally disabled people being shot by police officers who clearly do not have the proper training in dealing with such a case.”

Moaton said, “We are all breathing the same air as violent and killer cops who’d easily get away with the same crimes that a regular citizen would get life for.”

During the protest, Black Lives Matter Chicago organizer Kofi Ademola‏ told the crowd, “What I see unity of people who have had enough of the violence from institutions of white supremacy.”

Ademola went on with his speech stressing the intersectional angle of contemporary protests.

“This is not the first and this definitely cannot be the last time we come together, but it is beyond marching and protesting,” Ademola said. “We have to find out what are we willing to sacrifice, because people are being sacrificed everyday without consent.”