Teaching Assistants at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Move to Form Their Union

Just months after the formation of a graduate workers union at ISU, two landmark first contracts for graduate workers at Tufts and Brandeis Universities and Emory graduate workers winning a $15/hr minimum wage, teaching assistants at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) filed for official recognition of their union. The group presented signed union cards from the majority of SIUE teaching assistants to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, meaning that once reviewed and confirmed, the graduate workers will have full union rights.

“We are founding a graduate worker union here at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville,” said Sean Ritter, a Teaching Assistant in Chemistry. “We will be striving for the benefit of current and future workers at this institution by addressing key issues we are facing, such as low stipends and high fees.”

SIUE teaching assistants join a growing national and regional movement for fair wages, benefits and working conditions for graduate workers. Earlier this semester, graduate workers at Illinois State University voted overwhelmingly to form their union. Graduate workers at Tufts University and Brandeis University won the first two graduate worker contracts since the rights of graduate workers at private institutions were affirmed by the National Labor Relations Board. They also join graduate workers at Loyola University Chicago, Washington University, Duke University and Emory University who have made major gains including year-round pay, $15/hr minimum wages, dental benefits and more as part of SEIU Faculty and Graduate Workers Forward.

While graduate teaching assistants are able to form their union, Governor Rauner recently vetoed a bill that would have granted another subset of graduate assistants — including research assistants, pre-professional, and administrative assistants — the right to organize in Illinois.  

“All graduate workers make an essential contribution to our colleges and universities. It’s time those contributions are recognized,” said Jen Yoder, Teaching Assistant in English. “Graduate workers shouldn’t be forced to skip meals or doctor’s appointments, because of low wages and lack of benefits. That’s why we’re coming together at SIUE and across the country to change things for our colleagues and for our students. We all deserve a voice.”