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CHICAGO — Fifteen hundred graduate assistants at the University of Illinois Chicago are spending time on the picket lines instead of inside the classroom after contract talks broke down with the institution.  

Many demonstrators say they can barely make ends meet, with some working two-to-three jobs to live. It’s why demonstrators say they are demanding more money.  

At Wednesday’s rally, the UIC Graduate Employees Organization chair said protesters were enraged.  

“Every day, they try to make us feel small,” Matt Devilbiss said. “That’s what they did at the bargaining session yesterday. Everyone who went there felt really (expletive).” 

Graduate student workers at the UIC say they are no longer holding back on airing their grievances, demonstrating on the quad of UIC’s campus.

“We are here fighting for living wages,” said GEO member Dylan Shearer. “Trying to get anti-sexual harassment, anti-bullying language in the contract and to make sure the university can’t kick us out when we are doing our jobs.” 

The student workers union went on strike Monday as negotiations continued between them and the administration. The group at the rally , compromised mostly of teachers and research assistants, said they’re asking for a 5% pay increase.  

But UIC said that’s not the case in a statement sent to WGN News. 

Graduate assistants are hired as part-time employees, with most averaging 20 hours a week at a stipend of $20,615 for nine months. They also receive student fee, health care and tuition waivers, which provide an additional benefit of over $20,000. “ The statement further stated, “Currently, the university is offering a 12% raise over the three-year contract (8% first year, then 2% and 2%) as well as a one-time payment of $1,000; while the union is demanding a 21% raise (15% first year, then 3% and 3%) and significant decreases in what graduate assistants pay for student fees and health care coverage.

“We have the power,” Devilbiss shouted. “What kind of power? Union power.”

Protesters say they make a minimum yearly salary of $20,000.

“On top of that, the university takes off fees,” Shearer said. “Up to $2,000 in fees a year. They’re just taking money from us.”

In response, UIC chancellor Michael D. Amirdis posted a statement on its website that reads, “The university is committed to fully continuing normal operations during this work stoppage. Students and parents can be assured that educational objectives will be fulfilled, and grades should not be affected. All other members of the university community will be expected to meet for classes as usual.”

The statement further says it respects the rights of its employees but says this is not in the best interest of the university or its students. 

Chicago Federation Labor president Bob Reiter spoke out Wednesday, siding with protesters.

“One thing I know is that you guys are not given what you need to be given for the work that you do supporting this institution,” Reiter said.

Organizers said they would continue to protest until the university meets their demands.