The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Here Comes the Money: University and Unions Begin Discussing Pay and Benefits

Notably, the contract for nurses, represented by National Nurses United (NNU), expired in November, leaving the union free to strike.
Nikhil Jaiswal
National Nurses United and Graduate Students United hosted a press conference in front of Levi Hall during the bargaining processes for their contracts with the University.

At a press conference in front of Levi Hall on Monday morning, unionized nurses and graduate students reiterated their demands for higher pay and benefits. After the event, the two unions entered bargaining sessions with the University, the twelfth for graduate students and the eleventh for nurses.

The processes for both unions appear to be running in parallel. Both groups are in the initial stages of discussing economic proposals, broadly those relating to pay and benefits, with the University.

For nurses, higher wages and benefits are deeply intertwined with the safe operation of the Medical Center as the hospital struggles with retaining nurses.

According to National Nurses United (NNU), over half of “core nursing staff” have left the UChicago Medical Center (UCMC) since the pandemic, leaving the remaining nurses over-stretched. A survey conducted by the union in August showed that more than two-thirds of nurses at UCMC believe improved staffing is a key issue.

“We really are bringing the important issue of safe staffing,” said Stephanie Gamboa, a member of NNU who spoke at the press conference. “I think that ties into all of what we’re looking for, dignity, respect, retention, those are all things that we want to bring.”

Notably, the contract for nurses, represented by NNU, expired in November, leaving the union free to strike. NNU went on strike for 24 hours in 2019 during the bargaining process for their now-expired contract.

While that previous contract established staffing minimums in more than 20 units within the hospital, Gambo highlighted how understaffing in some units compromised operations across the system.

“We’re looking for safe staffing at all units. So whether you’re at an ambulatory clinic here on the Hyde Park campus or a satellite office, or if you’re working in IV therapy. All of those units need those plans in order to adequately serve the patients.” She went on to add, “if you do not have enough nurses answering your phone triage in an adequate time, that preventative care that could have prevented you from going into the ER is missed.”

In a statement to The Maroon, UCMC wrote that they are looking forward to continuing negotiations.

“We anticipate continued progress during the next three sessions, which are scheduled throughout December. And we remain committed to working collaboratively and respectfully for a fair and equitable contract that allows us to continue to attract exceptional nurses who meaningfully contribute to our institution and its reputation for excellence,” the statement read.

Today’s session was Graduate Student United’s (GSU) first since the group spoke to The Maroon in November about their negotiations with the University and the first since GSU delivered their economic proposals to the University. While the two sides have agreed on a number of matters, GSU highlighted how the University and GSU have yet to agree on terms relating to pay and benefits or on the specifics of a nondiscrimination statement.

Soham Sinha, a graduate student who spoke at the press conference, highlighted the necessity of firm language when it comes to non-discrimination. “Our position is clear: we need unambiguous contract language that will create a culture shift on this campus and erode the conditions that enable discrimination to occur in the first place. That is the only way to make our workplace safer,” said Sinha.

In a statement circulated before the press conference, GSU chastised the University for what it saw as efforts to delay negotiations and called on them to respond more quickly to proposals.

“The administration seems committed to one playbook: delay, delay, delay,” read a statement from GSU member Elaine Colligan. “Our members are long overdue for a living wage, a workplace free from harassment and discrimination, and health care benefits including dental and vision coverage.”

By contrast, in a written statement to The Maroon, the University stated that the speed of negotiations with GSU was high compared to other bargaining processes.

“To date there have been 11 bargaining sessions, nearing 70 hours in all, with forthright and constructive conversations resulting in tentative agreements between the University and the union bargaining team on nearly two dozen contractual provisions, including nearly all of the non-economic proposals. This represents encouraging progress in a relatively short amount of time in the context of other union negotiations.”

State Senator Robert Peters, who represents the 13th district which encompasses Hyde Park, also spoke at the press conference.


State Senator Robert Peters speaking at a conference hosted by National Nurses United and Graduate Students United (Nikhil Jaiswal)

Peters touted his deep ties to the nurses’ union and spoke of how he worked with NNU before his 2019 appointment to the State Senate when he was community organizer. NNU would go on to endorse him during his 2020 and 2022 campaigns.

As a state senator, Peters spoke at NNU events during their last set of negotiations with the University in 2019, and in 2020 he was the only non-federal level candidate in the country endorsed by NNU.

After the press conference, Peters told The Maroon both the importance of staffing levels at UCMC and the need for graduate students to be compensated fairly.

“At UCMC, we have to think about the staffing levels. We need to think about people’s safety in the workplace, people’s pay and people’s benefits. And then also thinking about those who are in the classroom. Particularly grad students who after the Great Recession had more and more put on, to have to play the role of professor and teaching. We need to make sure our grad students are getting the pay that they deserve, the benefits they deserve, and the experiences they deserve.”

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About the Contributor
Nikhil Jaiswal, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Nikhil Jaiswal is a member of the Class of 2024 from Connecticut. He has worked for The Maroon since 2020, starting as a reporter  and then working as an editor in the News section; covering a range of topics but with a focus on breaking news, rallies, and labor movements. You can find his writing here on The Maroon’s website and live coverage written by him and other members of the News section on the @NewsMaroon twitter account. In his free time, Nikhil enjoys getting free merch on campus. Send tips to
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  • G

    GSU Hostage / Dec 7, 2023 at 6:49 pm

    GSU-UE’s claims of fighting against discrimination are laughable. They, along with their UE parent, support BDS, which includes an effort to boycott Israeli academics. This is discrimination based on national origin, and a union promoting such policies cannot represent its members in good faith. It’s time we voted to decertify them.

    • J

      Jacob Myrene / Dec 8, 2023 at 3:24 pm

      Decertify your face.