Members of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) say State Rep. Jeanne Ives’ disparaging comments about graduate workers last week is a distraction from a bigger issue. Ives, a Republican from Wheaton, is opposed to legislation that would expand union rights to graduate research assistants.
In a committee hearing last Wednesday, Ives asserted research assistants didn’t deserve worker protection benefits. She cited a press release from the GEO urging its members in the science, technology, engineering and math fields to sign a petition promising not to work for any military or defense companies. The petition was not started by the graduate employees union, but it was presented to union leadership by a graduate student at the university, said Gabe Malo, a member of the GEO. Malo said the union's leadership decided to support the petition via a democratic process.
Malo said Ives’ comments are a distraction from the bigger point about union rights for research assistants. Malo also took issue with Ives’ description of research assistants as “weak kneed.”
“It’s insulting to our members, and to the research assistants, some of whom are veterans who have put much on the line for this country,” Malo said.
GEO member Roshni Bano hopes the legislation up for consideration by the House is passed. She's a research assistant at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's biophysics program. She said graduate workers like her bring value to the university.
“I feel like that value is being overlooked when the representative makes a statement saying we don’t deserve protections as workers,” Bano said.
A spokesperson for the university, Tom Hardy, previously told NPR Illinois that the administration does not support giving union benefits to research assistants.