FILE - U of I library

Reading Room in the Main Library on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Illinois lawmakers are one step closer to expanding the number of working college students who are able to organize and strike for better benefits.

A new bill is identical to one vetoed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner last year. In his veto message, he said the effort to give collective bargaining rights to research assistants and pre-professional graduate students would “change the relationship between graduate students and professors ... from cooperative and mentoring to transactional.”

Democratic Rep. Will Guzzardi says his bill simply allows other student workers the same rights as those who already can unionize.

“They ought to be treated like employees just like teaching assistants are treated,” he said.

State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said it was difficult for him to understand how Guzzardi could want affordable education for all while proposing measures that would likely raise the cost of tuition.

“You’re the reason – policies like this – why my son doesn’t go to school in Illinois,” he said. “When people wonder why their kids can’t go to school in Illinois to get a high level of education here in Illinois, I’m going to point them right to this bill.”

The move comes nearly a year after a University of Illinois’ graduate student union walked off the job in what became a two-week strike that centered around demands over tuition waivers. The bill is backed by the Illinois Federation of Teachers/American Federation of Teachers, who represent graduate student workers at UIUC and elsewhere.

The university didn’t express opposition to this bill, but spoke out against last year’s iteration.

University spokesperson Jan Dennis said the university system opposes allowing research assistants to unionize because “their research activities are not work, but are a fundamental part of their graduate education.”

The bill now awaits a full House vote.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.