Throughout our union’s history, GEO members have consistently fought to protect tuition waivers in the face of repeated attempts by UIUC to diminish them.

Over 1,000 GEO members went on strike on November 16-17, 2009 to win tuition wavier protection in our collective bargaining agreement. Almost immediately (January, 2010) the University took away tuition waivers from incoming graduate employees in the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

In 2011, the GEO won an arbitration regarding changes in tuition waiver policy in Fine and Applied Arts; the arbitrator agreed that the University could not change tuition waivers for graduate employees already at the University. The University owed the FAA students the tuition they had paid. However, the University refused to comply with the arbitrator’s decision until the GEO threatened to strike in 2012. In early 2013, University finally paid FAA graduate students nearly half a millions dollars for tuition they were forced to pay.

In 2013, Masters in Computer Science (MCS) students and MA students in Statistics were informed that they could not hold waiver-generating appointments. The two departments agreed to reverse their stance on assistantships after meeting with GEO.

In 2014, incoming MCS students were informed that the Computer Science department would not allow them to hold assistantships in CS and would seek a cash sum as tuition reimbursement for all MCS students who received waiver-generating appointments outside of CS. As a result of this policy change, most MCS students were hired as hourly employees. Hourly employees do the same work as Graduate Assistants and Teaching Assistants, but are not awarded tuition waivers. We went to arbitration in August 2015 and still await a decision in that case. If departments designated as “reimbursable” were allowed to operate in this way, 95% of graduate employees on campus could be impacted.

In fall 2015, the Materials Science and Energy Systems programs told their students that they would not be able hold appointments because the Department was designated as self-supporting. Although the Department said that the self-supporting classification was an error, the Department reiterated that the program is designated to ask for a cash sum as tuition reimbursement. Like the MCS students, the MS and ES students are functionally unable to get appointments because their employing department would have to reimburse their academic departments. During the course of this grievance the University Administration told GEO representatives that the Graduate College Handbook (which sets the tuition and fee waiver policy) is “merely supplemental” and “not meant to impede the business practices of the University.

Why should you care?

If these departments can change tuition waiver policies, ignore the Graduate Handbook, the GEO Contract, and agreements with the GEO, what prevents other departments from doing the same thing? Do you think the University should operate as a business or as an institute of higher learning? Do you want the University to prioritize your livelihood over its business practices?

The University works because we do!


Contact GEO at or 217-344-8283

Graduate Employees’ Organization, IFT/AFT Local 6300, AFL-CIO Champaign, Illinois, USA

Summary: The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign seeks to hire a temporary full-time Union Organizer. This position is funded by a grant from the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. The appointment length is approximately 480 hours over the course of 3 months.

The target start date for this position is February 22, 2016. The Union Organizer will work with members of the union and community allies to increase our collective power and win economic and social justice campaigns.

The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) represents approximately 2,800 Teaching and Graduate Assistants employed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is a member-led union with paid professional staff that works under the direction of elected, volunteer officers. The GEO is a democratic, activist, and social justice union, with a strong sense of solidarity and active community involvement.

In 2009, the GEO led a two-day strike with over 1,000 members (one of the 5 largest strikes in the US that year), and more recently in 2012, the GEO prepared for a strike but was able to secure a fair contract before that happened. The GEO has also participated in various community and campus campaigns such as:
● Increasing protections for nursing mothers, parents of various genders, access to health benefits for LGBTQ partners of employees, etc.
● Raising the grad minimum wage in excess of inflation and protecting tuition waivers.
● Advocating against racist imagery such as the “Chief” as the UIUC mascot.
● Fighting for immigrant rights, including expelling federal deportation agents from the Champaign County Jail, and preventing them from being able to divide families here.
● Stopping the expansion of a 20-million dollar jail that would have disproportionately affected African-American residents, and also fighting for a re-entry program.
● Working with student organizations to add gender confirmation surgery to the student insurance plan.

The Union Organizer will actively organize, recruit, and foster economic and social justice activism of this nature.

Job Duties:
● Increase membership by recruiting bargaining unit members to sign membership cards.
● Build and activate GEO members. Recruit and train union members and community allies into leadership positions.
● Help GEO leadership plan and implement union activities such as social events, general membership meetings, rallies, volunteer nights, and work-actions.
● Represent the GEO to the UIUC admin, to other unions, and to community groups.
● Help with contract negotiation and enforcement, including finding and filing grievances, assisting the bargaining team, assisting with arbitrations, and research.
● Build and activate involvement through town hall meetings, office visits, home visits, departmental events, membership drives, work actions, campaigns, etc.
● Help GEO, unions, and community organizations plan and implement campaigns.
● Help maintain accurate records of union activities, members, database, etc.
● Help with communications, including writing/editing press releases, designing flyers and brochures, taking meeting minutes, and developing other materials.

● At least one year of organizing experience
● Ability to manage multiple tasks in a fast-paced environment
● Excellent verbal communication skills
● Ability to use word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and social media
● Strong one-on-one organizing skills
● Flexible schedule; ability to work evenings and/or weekends as needed
● Preferred Qualifications:
● A Bachelor’s degree or higher
● Experience as a graduate student/employee, or other contingent employment.
● Experience working as an organizer for a labor union or a volunteer-run organization
● Experience organizing membership drives, work-actions, direct action, civil disobedience, marches, etc.
● Experience working with communities of color, on social justice campaigns, as well as worker’s rights campaigns, and/or Get Out The Vote campaigns.

Application Process: To apply please send your cover letter, resume, and contact information to Also provide names and contact information for at least two references. Please email if you have questions. In order to ensure full consideration, applications materials must be received by February 1, 2016. Applications will be considered after this date on a case-by-case basis. In your cover letter, describe your experience working in labor organizations, social justice organizations, and your experience working with communities of color, and/or otherwise marginalized or low-income communities. The letter length is whatever you deem appropriate.

Salary and benefits:
$28.58/hour plus health, dental, and vision benefits and cell phone/driving reimbursement.

Affirmative Action Statement: The GEO is an AA/EEO employer. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals are strongly encouraged to apply. Furthermore, the GEO is a social justice union that is committed to increase the participation of women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals in all aspects of the union. The GEO is also committed to organizing in solidarity with community members around a variety of issues that deal with racial, economic, and gender justice.
For those reasons, the GEO encourages all applicants to use the cover letter, resume, references, or an additional info sheet in a format and length of your choosing, to disclose any information (voluntarily) as it relates to:
1. Any relevant facts about the applicant’s identity as it relates to the applicant’s experience organizing around racial, gender, and economic justice;
2. Any past experiences organizing to address issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc, and how that organizing experience empowered those people who are directly affected by institutionalized discrimination (women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, etc), and put those affected individuals at the forefront of organizing efforts.
3. Your potential future role as you see it as an organizer with the GEO and how you would address institutional forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

The GEO has historically organized around social justice issues, and is committed to continuing that tradition and, in any way possible, increasing those efforts. The GEO encourages applicants to share similar organizing experiences and goals. Sharing this information is voluntary. Applicants should share as much information as they deem relevant to the job. Preference will be given to applicants who exhibit experience, passion, and an ongoing desire to overcome institutional and interpersonal forms of discrimination.

Graduate school is hard. Sometimes it feels too hard and we feel alone. Please become familiar with suicide prevention resources and signs for yourself and your colleagues.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1 800 273 2855 (English, interpreters for 150 languages)
1-888-628-9454 (Spanish)

UIUC Counseling Center guidance: If suicide is imminent, contact the Police Department immediately or Suicide Prevention Team at the Counseling Center at 217-333-3704 (TTY: 217-244-9146) during the office hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

We are a community and the health of our colleagues and friends is incredibly important.

Copy of gmm flyer v1.2.1

The General Members Meetings (GMMs) are vital to the efficacy of the union. We need to deliberate about the larger issues our union faces and strategically organize. GEO is democratically run and takes that commitment. seriously. Please do join us!

There will be childcare and food provided. The visual is not an official agenda but a sampling of the topics that we may deliberate. An agenda is forthcoming.

Bring YOU, your ideas and concerns, and a grad mate!


Other meetings prior to the GMM:

  • Tuesday September 8th at 7pm at Quality Bar International Student Working Group meeting. We will discuss unique challenges international graduate students face at UIUC, some of our goals for the year and plan for the picnic.
  • Wednesday September 9th at 4pm at the Latino/Latina Studies conference room (1207 W. Oregon) Solidarity Committee meeting. We will discuss how to build a strong network with other unions and social justice groups in order to take care of the whole of the employee.
  • We have two meetings Thursday September 10th at La Casa:
    • Coordinating Committee at 5pm (food provided). This is a meeting of the core officers but is open to members!
    • Communications Committee at 6:30pm. Comm Comm We will discuss our goals for the year, our website redesign and how to strategically shape messages to mobilize members and clearly communicate with the University.


March with your union tomorrow at 9:30am (flyer at the party said 12:30pm but 9:30am is correct). We are meeting at Lincoln Square Mall, Slot #22.

Wear your GEO swag and bring all of the energy you can to tell the community we are proud of its workers and continue to fight for their rights.

Students new to Champaign-Urbana: Note that the buses will not be operating on Monday so find some friends to walk, cycle or carpool with!

Labor Movement

Thank you to our Co-President, Becky Schumann, and Co-Chair to Stewards Council, Shawn Fields, for organizing a great health care training. We were lucky enough to have Champaign County Health Care Consumer (CCHCC)’s director, Claudia Lennhoff! We are stronger when we are healthier and if you ever have questions about your healthcare options on or off campus then please contact GEO (!



CCHCC Director Claudia Lennhoff explains health options in Chambana


GEO had an amazing weekend at the Sweetcorn Festival! Thank you to all of the volunteers who helped make it such a success!

More than a dozen new member cards were signed and we engaged with community members  regarding our social justice efforts and collaborations in the future. GEO and community members played bags, asked questions and expressed their concerns about the threat of losing tuition waiver protection at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The most important thing we wanted to communicate was the threat of losing tuition waiver protections for graduate employees. For graduate employees, tuition waivers make our teaching and research at the University possible.

We won these protections in our 2012-2017 contract but must continue to defend that contract and send a clear message to the university that tuition waivers should be major priority. Graduate employees are not the only ones who understand how important tuition waivers are.

Read more about our current legal grievance against the administration for taking away these important parts of graduate student survival (Computer Science dept)

Here is the Facebook photo album!



This TBT takes us back to a 2010 GEO struggle for tuition waivers for graduate students in Fine and Applied Arts departments

Watch the video to see how the 2009 contract was violated in 2010.

July 2010: The GEO submitted a complaint to university regarding graduate employees in Fine and Applied Arts (FAA). Instead of providing first year employees the usual full tuition waiver, FAA issued in-state tuition waivers plus scholarships. However, the scholarships fell short of the whole difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition, and FAA grads had to pay the difference ($1,050/yr on a $7,000 – 9,000/acad yr income).

What is more, the College refused to guarantee the scholarships. This means they could disappear after 1 year and depts. could have charged the in-state and out-of-state tuition difference (almost $14,000/yr). This is yet another example of flawed budget priorities; the most vulnerable members of the University community are frequently asked to shoulder the burdens of budget shortfalls.

The GEO filed a grievance to address this violation before first year students even arrived on campus. We’ve worked through the three levels that are internal to the university and a binding arbitration. The arbitration is like a court hearing, except the judge’s decision is final; it cannot be appealed.

July 2011: The GEO won the arbitration, but the University did not abide by it at that time.

November 2012: During bargaining, the administration agreed to GEO’s new tuition waiver language and to abide by the arbitrator’s decision as part of the new contract. GEO accepted smaller wage increases and a 5 year contract, instead of a 3 year contract, in return for the continued waiver protection and the pay out of the arbitration decision.

Spring 2013: 266 FAA grad employees received tuition refunds plus interest
The struggle was long but GEO stood by FAA graduate employees and GEO members helped put pressure on the administration by circulating the facts of the contract violation. GEO is in the middle of another grievance for Masters in Computer Science students. Learn more about this grievance and help pressure the University to honor their contracts and respect their graduate students.

Tuition Wiavers Frontline After a Level 3 Grievance Meeting in December of 2014, MCS students and GEO Grievance Committee members

Tuition Wiavers Frontline
After a Level 3 Grievance Meeting in December of 2014, MCS students and GEO Grievance Committee members


MCS students standing strong

MCS students standing strong

For more information, please contact Becky Schumann, at (703)973-7486 or




Urbana-Champaign (August 26, 2015): The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO, IFT/AFT Local 6300) is going to arbitration in a case  the University of Illinois.


The GEO first secured a contractual right to tuition waivers for graduate employees through a 2-day strike in November 2009. That strike included more than 1,000 GEO members and supporters. The policy change in the MCS program is not the University’s first contract violation regarding tuition waivers. Shortly after the contract language was secured in 2009 the University unilaterally changed tuition waiver policy in the College of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA). In that case an independent federal arbitrator ruled in favor of the GEO in 2011. The University refused to comply with the arbitrator’s binding ruling and only reinstated tuition waivers for all FAA graduate employees in an agreement made during the bargaining of GEO’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement.


The policy change in MCS is two-pronged. First, the Computer Science Department will not employ these graduate students in positions that come with a tuition waiver. Additionally, the Computer Science Department seeks a cash reimbursement of tuition from any department willing to employ the MCS students. This would cost the hiring department approximately $30,000 per employee. Past practice has been to simply waive the cost of tuition. Many MCS students were extended offers of waiver-generating employment, only to have them rescinded after the hiring department became aware of the the tuition reimbursement policy.


Many MCS graduate students come to the University of Illinois with extensive experience as teaching assistants in both computer science and engineering. For this skill they are offered positions and paid as “hourly” employees for the same work done by other graduate assistants who are receiving a salary, health, dental, and eye care insurance, and a tuition waiver.


“The administration has admitted that they changed this policy without bargaining with the GEO. This isn’t their first attempt to use graduate student tuition as a revenue generator,” said Becky Schumann, GEO co-president and former grievance officer. “GEO will continue to fight for tuition waivers for all graduate students. Tuition waivers are crucial to maintaining accessibility to public higher education in the state of Illinois.” The GEO has also filed a grievance alleging violation of their current contract. An arbitrator will hear that grievance today.


The Graduate Employees’ Organization, AFT/IFT Local 6300, AFL-CIO, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, represents approximately 2700 Teaching and Graduate Assistants on the UIUC Campus. In November 2009, over 1,000 GEO members successfully went on strike to secure a fair contract and more accessible UIUC. With events like lobby day, the GEO continues to work for high quality and accessible public education in Illinois.


For more information, please contact Becky Schumann, at (703)973-7486 or More information can also be found on our website




Between now and our rocking Welcome Back Party on Sept 4th at Clark Bar, we have two important events!


Sweetcorn festival

This weekend (Aug 28th and Aug 29th), please join us at the Sweetcorn Festival! Come say hello, enter a raffle, hear about our new initiatives AND come take a picture at our Protect Tuition Waivers photo booth.

At the photobooth, we want to get a picture with YOU holding a sign that explains “I need tuition waivers because…”

If you want to learn more about Tuition Waivers, check out this video.

You can sign up to help out at the table here. We need help with the children’s games, the raffle tickets, committee sign up sheets and the photo booth!



The GEO does so many things! Find out more about the GEO at the Info Fair on Wednesday, Sept 2nd in the English Building Atrium from 5:30pm-7pm. The Facebook event is here.

GEO collage

If you want to find out more about:

– What our contract is & How to protect our contract: Grievance Committee

– Efforts to help serve Int’l Grad Students: International Student Working Group

– Our Healthcare protections, needs and efforts: Healthcare Committee

– GEO’s cooperation with multiple social justice groups throughout Illinois: Solidarity Committee

– How to serve as a representative to your department: Stewards Committee

– GEO’s social media, branding and presence on campus: Communications Committee

– Environmental issues: Environmental Committee

– The officers whom you elect: Coordinating Committee

Bring your questions, your interests, your concerns and your convictions!