Despite GOP concerns, graduate research assistants one step closer to being able to unionize
A bill to amend the Illinois Labor Relations Act to allow graduate research assistants to unionize concerned three GOP lawmakers during the May 30 House floor debate.
Opposed by Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) in May on the Senate floor, SB 2546 was also rejected on the House floor by Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton), who was the first to argue against sponsor Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago), who called the Labor Relations Act inconsistent without his legislation.
“This... is an expansion for a union that has absolutely no respect for our military, no respect at all,” Ives said.
And it’s not just the military it doesn't respect—it’s also the students, according to Ives, who noted that the very same graduate students seeking to unionize went on strike when students needed them most at the end of the term.
After asking for an extended debate, sitting chamber president Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) attempted to argue against Ives' request to keep it as a standard debate, but she said no. After winning that short debate, Ives continued with Guzzardi.
She informed the sponsor and the floor that the union posted an ad on its website encouraging all STEM graduates from the University of Illinois to not work in the defense industries.
“This is a union that is radically leftist, and they don’t appreciate the fact that they live in an American society that is free and protected by our military,” Ives said.
Taking the matter very personally, Ives noted that her two sons serve in the military. One of them went to the University of Illinois and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.
“This same union has so little respect for the taxpayers of not just the state of Illinois, but [also] the federal government that they don’t even realize that the University of Illinois takes in over $60 million a year in research and grants from the Department of Defense alone,” Ive said.
After noting the university’s opposition, Rep. Steve Reick (R-Woodstock) pointed out that the governor is not in favor of the bill, which Guzzardi said he was unaware of. Reick then questioned how research assistants are not required to teach like teaching assistants.
“How can you say research assistants should be folded into a union that represents those whose primary function is teaching?” Reick asked.
According to Guzzardi, there is no “bright line” between those who teach and those who don’t in the union contract, “and research assistants are performing compensated labor on behalf of the university.”
Their labor aids the university in getting grants and holding prestige, Guzzardi added. Reick countered, citing a note from the university saying that it opposed the bill because the research that assistants perform furthers their own academic studies and does not enhance the wealth and status of the school.
Concluding the GOP debate, Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) asked the sponsor why research assistants were not originally included in the union contract. Guzzardi said they were not included because their work was underrated, which his bill seeks to correct.
No matter who you are researching for, you are employed by the university, Guzzardi said.
Speaking to the bill, Wheeler said he wished there was more engagement and clarity from the school to move forward with a more unified voice.
“Unfortunately, I will be voting no,” Wheeler said.
SB 2546 advanced out of the House via a 66-49 vote and will now go to Gov. Bruce Rauner for contemplation.