From the desk of the president

Happy Thanksgiving,

It is ironic that my inaugural column begins as the semester is ending for many of us, and for that I apologize. As president, it is critical that I maintain open lines of communication with our member body, not just through periodic e-mails, but in a more specific capacity. To that end, I intend for this column to be a regular feature of your GAU newsletter wherein I share updates, report our successes, our failures, and keep the member body informed of the many ways that your union is active in fighting for your rights as students and workers.

​So, in the interest of sharing our successes, I am pleased to report that many of you have begun to receive contracts for spring semester, ending weeks of uncertainty. This victory is the result of constant pressure placed on the administration by your union, both in public and behind closed doors, resulting in Interim Chancellor Colwell’s assurance that departments across the campus have been instructed to comply with the University’s “belt tightening” without resorting to the elimination of GA positions. For now, our contract and continued employment are relatively safe.

​Despite this victory, there still remain challenges on the horizon. Many RAs (research assistants) have contracts whose funding is based upon external grants. As such, some of these grants have been placed in jeopardy by the continuing budget impasse. In a normal budget year, the funds provided by these grants would “flow through” the university from the state, allowing contracts to be awarded to RAs. As the university is uncertain when, or if, the money from these grants will materialize, the university cannot commit to the projects that these grants would fund.
​The end result is not only the obstruction of projects vital to the university’s research mission, but an increasing uncertainty as to the continued livelihood of those graduate student affected by this situation.

In response, your union is actively seeking answers from the administration and Chancellor Colwell concerning as to when these contracts will be offered, as the administration is contractually obligated to inform all those covered by our collective bargaining agreement of their appointment for the next semester. This obligation is one of the many ways that your union helps maintain your livelihood here at SIUC.
​Rather than close on somewhat of a sour note, I would like to offer something hopeful. As you will no doubt read later in this newsletter, members of GAU’s executive committee travelled to the University of Missouri to meet with their Coalition of Graduate Workers and speak on a forum that provided insights into the benefits of unionization, benefits which we all enjoy. While I will leave the details of that meeting to the article later in this newsletter, I can say that the conversations I had with the graduate students at Mizzou give me hope that they will win their struggle for unionization and attain the rights that they deserve.

Finally, I would like to affirm that GAU will stand in solidarity with not only the struggle of our own members here at SIU, in whatever form it may take, but we will also stand in solidarity with the struggle of Mizzou’s GAs, and GAs across the country as they fight for their rights as workers, students, and members of our campus community. GAU will be here to protect your rights at the bargaining table, in arbitration, and whenever you need us.

In Solidarity,

Johnathan Flowers
President, Graduate Assistants United

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