A Welcome and a “Thank You”
August 31, 2014
By Bob Velez, President, GA United
The fall 2014 semester is underway and I offer a “welcome” to new and returning SIU grad students! We start off this new academic year with new leadership in both our union and the university administration. Your GAU bargaining team is gearing up for meetings with the administration’s team to secure a new contract that will cover a multitude of items including stipend levels, benefits, and working conditions. GAU will do our best to provide whatever information we can on the progress of these negotiations throughout the semester and we are optimistic that we will secure a fair contract that balances the needs of graduate students and the university.
GA United is, of course, part of the larger organized labor movement; a movement that has its roots in New Deal legislation that made collective bargaining legal and saw the birth of several unions including the American Newspaper Guild and the United Auto Workers. Those unions, ironically, formed during a time of enormous strain on the U.S. Economy: the Great Depression. Unemployment reached 25% in the United States and rose even higher in some other countries. The widespread poverty and lack of opportunity notwithstanding, these trailblazers called for the labor provided by the workforce to be recognized as valuable to the business sectors they worked within and risked their jobs (and, sometimes, life and limb) to organize for better pay and working conditions.
While we are currently not in a period of widespread want and woe, it is not uncommon for some segments of the population to criticize unions and the labor movement for seeking more for their members. Its no secret that Illinois is in a precarious financial state and as public employees, our fates are inextricably bound to those of Illinois; at least for our time here at SIU. While we make no guarantees regarding what we will be able to secure in our next contract, we do not apologize for a collective bargaining process that seeks to better the situation for our members. State funding for higher education has been only one victim of the full frontal assault on public budgets over the last decade or so.
I invite new and returning grad students to join GA United. As I said during the new student orientation this year and in several departmental meetings, more members gives us more clout at the bargaining table. Membership has its privileges as well; not the least of which is having a say in the governance and operation of the union that represents you. As an all-volunteer run union, we always need individuals to invest their time and energy in keeping our ship afloat.
One final note: you are receiving this newsletter over a “long” weekend. While Labor Day is generally viewed as various things including the end of summer, the beginning of campaign season in an election year, and the deadline for wearing white clothing and accessories, it commemorates “the social and economic achievements of American workers” (http://www.dol.gov/laborday/history.htm). Some of those achievements include, but are not limited to: the 40-hour workweek, the end of exploitative child labor laws, and the weekend. Some of these gains were bought with enormous sacrifice on the part of labor activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and it is easy to take them for granted today since we rarely face the brickbats of business thugs and mercenaries eager to crack the skulls of “rabble-rousers”. For their sacrifices and commitment to the cause of organized labor, I offer a heartfelt “thank you”. It is my ultimate hope that we all spend time reflecting upon those that came before us and did the heavy lifting of securing for labor a spot at the table.