02/18/2014 05:24 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2014

University Of Illinois-Chicago Faculty Stage 2-Day Strike For First Time In Campus History

More than 1,000 University of Illinois at Chicago faculty walked off the job Tuesday kicking off a two-day strike for the first time in campus history.

Classes for hundreds of students were cancelled Tuesday and Wednesday while others taught by graduate and teaching assistants, who are covered by a separate union, went ahead as scheduled.

Organizers told the Tribune the limited two-day action of rallies and picket lines around campus is intended to engage the administration over an ongoing contract dispute "without creating a drawn-out disruption to the education of UIC's 27,500 students."

At the heart of the strike for a new contract is the minimum salary for non-tenured full-time faculty, many of them Ph.D. holders. Some 70 employees in this category make less than $30,000 a year -- less than some fast food managers. According to 2013 salary data, the head varsity football coach at the Urbana-Champaign campus makes $1.6 million.

“We’re looking to make them real active members of their departments, as opposed to being treated like academic gypsies,” Joseph Persky, a UIC economics professor who heads the union, told the Sun-Times.

The University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty, a union representing both tenured and non-tenure-track faculty, filed a strike notice earlier in February, the Chicago Reader reports.

"The negotiations have been dragging on almost interminably," Persky told the Tribune.

After some 60 bargaining sessions since the union formed in 2012, it says the university still hasn't offered a workable contract. The union is asking for a 4.5 percent pay raise for 2014, while the university is offering 3.25 percent.

“We understand the state [of Illinois] has some financial difficulties, but the university is in fine financial shape, as testified by their Moody’s bond ratings and by their auditor’s reports,” Persky said.

UIC spokesman Bill Burton told DNAinfo Chicago the university "continues to bargain in good faith."

"The two sides have made progress on many issues and have tentative agreements on several articles," Burton said in an email. "[It is] important to remember this is the first-ever contract. It started with a blank page."

The next negotiating session is scheduled for Friday.