Graduate assistants at the University of Illinois went on strike to protest the administration’s refusal to recognize them as employees with the right to unionize.

The first-ever work stoppage at the Urbana-Champaign campus began with about 50 teaching assistants marching and waving handmade signs that read “No Union, No Teach” and “The U of I works because we do.”

The strike does not directly affect the controversy about graduate student unionization at Yale because the University of Illinois is a public university, and different rules govern private universities.

The Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Illinois voted earlier to hold a two-day strike starting Wednesday as part of their fight to form a union for about 5,200 graduate student employees.

“There is going to be more of this, longer strikes and bigger demonstrations, until we are recognized by the administration,” said Dave Kamper, a GEO organizer. “This will not stop.”

The GEO asked teaching assistants in five of the school’s main buildings to cancel classes and halt all teaching duties for two days, including grading papers, holding office hours and preparing class work.

It was not known how many teaching assistants participated. There are about 500 graduate employees who teach in the buildings, and Kamper said at least two-thirds had agreed to join the strike.

The administration continued its opposition to the union effort.

“We still don’t think it’s a good thing educationally, and a stoppage isn’t going to change people’s minds,” university spokesman Bill Murphy said.

While the administration has opposed GEO efforts to unionize, graduate students have found support on campus and in the Legislature.

The Illinois House passed a resolution Tuesday urging the university to respect the right of graduate employees to organize and bargain collectively. On campus, several faculty members either canceled classes or held them off-campus to show their support.

The average graduate assistant is getting free tuition and a stipend of about $13,000 this school year, according to the university.

–Associated Press