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Classes canceled when grad students strike

Undergrads support TA's; ask Killeen to justify salary

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- UI graduate student employees are officially on strike. They say they still haven't reached a contract agreement with the university.

There was a walk-out at noon, Monday. They've been planning the strike since the beginning of the month, but this battle has been going on for quite some time.

The union is striking because members say the university plans to take away tuition waiver protections and for unfair labor practices.

They say their living stability is at stake because they're not getting paid fair wages. Graduate student employees' desires could be heard from streets away.

"What do we want?"

Nearly a year of negotiations with the UI for better wages hit a climax Monday. Many classes were canceled in anticipation of the strike, but undergraduate students, like Karen Olowu, view this as an educational experience in itself.

"We're going to support them in every way we can because this struggle is not just about the TA's, but the institution of American education. It's about what this institution truly stands for."

She's one of many students who walked with their TA's in support of their strike, even participating in a student walk-out at Foellinger Auditorium. She might not be a TA, but her education is on the line.

"My only question to President Killeen and other administrators who make that exorbitant money is, do you really believe the labor that you do for this institution is more valuable than the labor my TA's do? Because, I ain't never been taught by President Tim Killeen. I've never been taught by the chancellor. They don't do that crucial work that keeps the university functioning. It's my TA's who do it."

The co-president of the union was one of the speakers at the walk-out. He says they don't want a change. In fact, all they want is for the previous contract, made in 2009, to go back into effect.

"If you are hired to do TA or GA work, that you get full compensation, which includes a full tuition waiver, not a base rate tuition wavier or no tuition waiver."

Although some students won't be in class, Olowu says she understands their fight and learning how to be an engaged citizen is a lesson on its own.

"This strike is really just a beautiful example of us applying our critical thinking skills to a practical, real world problem."

The university's last contract proposal states they have the right to modify tuition waivers and they "remain fully committed to supporting competitive assistantship opportunities, so we continue to attract the best graduate students."


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