Updated: February 18, 2014 5:39PM
A couple of summers ago, John Casey, who teaches first-year writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, took a job as a bicycle tour guide.
“A lot of folks on those tours thought I was doing it just for fun,” Casey said. “I told them, ‘No, I need the money.’”
Before taxes, Casey says he makes $30,000 a year, a level of pay he and about 400 other UIC faculty marchers who went on strike Tuesday say is unacceptable.
Marching, chanting and hoisting strike banners aloft on campus, the strikers — taking part in the university’s first faculty walkout — demanded pay raises and an end to a profits-first mentality among administrators.
Joseph Persky, a UIC economics professor and union president, blasted the administration for its “bottom-line” philosophy, but then spent most of his time demanding more money for faculty.
“Our raises are considered avoidable,” Persky told the crowd in UIC’s quad. “Not anymore!”
Some 1,100 full-time tenured and nontenured faculty members are taking part in the two-day strike, after failing to reach a deal following 18 months of negotiations, the union says. The next bargaining session is planned for Friday.
The key issue, Persky said, is wages — particularly for the 70 or so nontenured full-time lecturers who earn a $30,000 annual minimum. The union says those lecturers deserve a $45,000 minimum. The administration is offering to boost pay to the mid-$30,000s, beginning in the next academic year. The union is also seeking a 4.5 percent merit pay increase for the current academic year, while the administration is offering 3.25 percent — with no guarantees for future years, Persky said.
“Those percents don’t reflect the true costs,” universty spokesman Bill Burton said. The numbers don’t include other aspects of the union’s proposal, such as payment of employee out-of-pocket insurance costs, according to a statement from the school.
The estimated total cost of the union’s proposals over four years is 23% for the tenure system group, and 27% for the non-tenure system group, the statement said.
If he wasn’t constantly worried about money, he’d be a better teacher, Casey said.
“They’re receiving a good education, but they are not getting as much of my attention as they would if I were earning enough to not have to worry about, can I pay the bills at the end of the month or do I need to take on another job?” Casey said.
For the most part, UIC students strolling across campus Tuesday sided with their professors and lecturers — even if it meant missing classes.
“I see myself going to grad school here and possibly teaching here ,” said Anjum Gandhi, 24, a sociology student. “Those [wage] numbers are insane. It just doesn’t seem right that after going through so much school and so many loans and all that stuff that they would get paid what they do.”
Several students said their teachers had offered assignments online, in anticipation of the strike.
Nick Greenen, 20, an industrial design major, said he was “a little irritated” by the strike, but generally supported the cause — even though it meant missing two classes during the walkout.
Greenen said his art history professor spent 10 minutes of class time explaining the dispute to students.
“I was kind of thinking, ‘OK, I’m here to learn,’ but I still support (the strike),” Greenen said.