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Hi members old and new,
Welcome to the University of Illinois, and most importantly welcome to the Graduate Employees’ Organization, your labor Union.
Whether you’ve been at the U of I for a while, or just starting graduate school, you arrive to campus at a crucial moment for graduate employees. Our current contract with the University of Illinois expires during the Fall of 2017, so we will be preparing and organizing for bargaining.
GEO Welcome Back Party on Friday, September 2 at Pizza M (208 W. Main, Urbana) for a night of free food, free drinks, and free solidarity. The party takes place from 9 pm to 1 am.
Whether you’re new to town or you’ve been around for awhile, check out GEO’s compilation of services and tips for living in Chambana. It’s a useful guide for healthcare, banking, campus resources, restaurants, and more. Do you have a suggestion for something to add to the guide? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
GRACE: I’m Grace Hébert. I’m the Communications Officer for the GEO for 2016-2017, and I’m here with Sara Roncero-Menendez from the Department of Communication.
SARA: I’ll tell the audience a little about myself. [both laugh] It’s all good. So, my name is Sara Roncero-Menendez, as Grace so graciously pronounced; it’s a hard name to pronounce. Um, I was a Master’s student at the University here in Communication, and I was a steward for the Communication Department, as well as a Co-Chair for the Stewards Council in the Academic Year of 2015-2016.
GRACE: So, Sara, why don’t you tell me about when you first got involved in GEO and why you got involved in GEO?
SARA: Well, actually, it’s because you asked me to go to a meeting. [both laugh] Uh, so, Grace was the Steward for the Communication Department when I first came to the program, and you invited – you said, ‘You know, hey do you want to go to this meeting? Do you want to see what it’s about?’ And, I said, you know, “okay.” I was willing to try new things, you know, I’m from New York, so being in Illinois was very odd for me, so I wanted to go try some new stuff, so, uh, I went to prepping for orientation. It was a Stewards Council meeting, and it was great. People were very friendly. We went over a lot of the basics, which was very useful for me, as I’ve never been in a union or was really interested in union politics. It just wasn’t something that I was familiar with. And, you know, I just sort of kept coming back, and I found that a lot of what the Stewards’ Council did was party planning, working with students on a more departmental level, and I was really used to that, as I came from a university that had a lot of like residence hall politics and that was a lot of what we did, and I was really good at it. And, I really enjoyed it, and I thought it was a great way to make friends, so that’s a lot of why I stuck with GEO.
GRACE: That’s great, yeah! And so, you were Stewards’ Council Co-Chair for this past year, 2015-2016, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about why you decided to run, what that job entails.
SARA: So, I decided to run, um, because I really enjoyed being on Stewards’ Council, and I spoke with the former Stewards’ Co-Chair, who was also named Sarah (laughs). I talked to her about it, and she thought that I would be a great fit, and I knew the other person who was running, Shawn. She was a really great partner, and we had sort of discussed like if we were going to do it, how we were going to do it, so there was a lot of open communication there. And, I just enjoyed Stewards’ Council so much. I just wanted, you know, I wanted to give it a try. I had been on residence hall councils before; I had done leadership positions; I wasn’t super comfortable with the politics, uh, but, you know, people were super ready to help. Andrea and Natalie and Bruce were super – our staff – were super on it. If I had any questions, they were happy to answer. So, I felt supported in the role. It wasn’t quite as daunting as, maybe, being president of – of the Union, but I felt that SC Co-chair it really fit into the skills and the things I wanted to do.
GRACE: That’s great, so Stewards is sort of a body where anyone can join, right? So, why don’t you tell me about the level of commitment that’s required, if I choose to become a Steward.
SARA: Honestly, it’s very flexible. We basically use – we usually have stewards come in when we need them, when we’re planning, when we’re trying to get rallies up and going. So, it’s a very flexible commitment. I wouldn’t say it’s more than maybe at most maybe two hours, three hours a week. And a lot of it is, you know, doing crafts, working with fellow graduate students, so it’s a very sort of community, team-oriented kind of stuff. And obviously we – we put a lot of stock in and value in what the Stewards have to say and what they want to do, so it’s very much not like we’re giving marching orders. We want the Stewards to be involved and to be engaged and active. So, if they have an idea for a program, we certainly look into it. If they want put [an event] into a different venue, we give that a try. And, so, honestly, it’s basically as committed as you want it to be.
GRACE: That’s great, yeah. So, could you tell me about your favorite part about being SC Co-Chair? What was your favorite thing?
SARA: Oh, so hard, there are so many great moments, but I gotta say, I really like just sort of going to the meetings. Um, over the year, we developed – people come in and out of Stewards a lot because their commitments change, or they have to work on exams – but a lot of it ended up being, you know, we would come in; we’d have these fun little icebreakers. We’d get to know each other. We’d talk; we’d share ideas and really work on that departmental level. Um, and, you know, break out into crafts or idea sharing, and it just really worked well to sort of get to know different people. Uh, and we all had a such a good time together that I really just like going to those meetings, an hour, hour and a half. And it just – it just felt like being on, like a — a fun planning committee.
GRACE: And that’s really great to hear because meetings can be one of those things where it sounds really boring. So, it’s good to hear that, like, Stewards’ meetings are actually pretty fun. So, um, going off of that, what was your favorite GEO event?
SARA: Oh man. I definitely have to say we did a trivia night – contract trivia night. Um, Andrea, one of our awesome staffers, had done a trivia night at UIC, which is the University of Illinois, Chicago, and that had worked really well. So, we were like, ‘Let’s – let’s give it a try. Like, what’s the worst that could happen?’ Um, and it turned out to be really successful. The Stewards all came together; we did questions; we went through the contract. You help us.
GRACE: I did! I was on Grievance [Committee] at the time, so I helped come up with some questions and concepts, yeah.
SARA: It was super useful. And, you know, it helped us get to know the contract better, so going into bargaining. We had a lot of fun. A lot of new people showed up. And, we had pizza and all that good stuff, so it was good time for everybody. Um, and, you know, we also got to have other Stewards. So, me and Shawn are basically the background; we did most of, like, the – this is the food, this is the venue, but we had, uh, Xander, who’s now the current SC Co-Chair, and, uh, Juan really do like the music and the hosting and the going through things. So, to give them a chance to shine too because it’s not just the “Well, I’m the officer, so I’m gonna do everything.” We’re being – we want all of our stewards to be involved and as present as they want to be.
GRACE: Yeah, that’s great and it’s good to share the burden, you know. A lot of people make event even better, having more people involved –
SARA: Xander was a great host. He was hilarious [both laugh].
GRACE: He was. He was really good. So, could you tell me what you think the biggest challenge facing the GEO, you know going forward, is?
SARA: Definitely, as we go into bargaining, it’s gonna [sic] be a lot about getting people involved and getting them to stay. Because a lot of what’s gonna [sic] happen coming into bargaining is that there’s going to be a lot of sort of organizing, getting departments together and if we need to go on strike, getting that voted and getting people to, you know, show the university that we are together. And, that can be hard because we’re such a huge campus. We’re huge, and we have so many different departments. So, I really think the big thing is, like, we need to make sure that we really make people aware that we’re here, but also really just to retain [members] and add new members.
GRACE: That’s great. So, if I’m a grad student who wants to be involved what advice do you have for me about being involved with the GEO?
SARA: I’m gonna [sic] admit that it’s a little bit daunting. [both laugh] because the Union is so big, and there’s so many parts. And, if you’re like me, who knew nothing about unions or union politics, um, you might feel a little overwhelmed. But, uh, you know, talking to a steward who’s already in Stewards’ Council is great, if you know anybody. Um, but if you don’t, I definitely just recommend going a meeting. A GMM is the easiest; it’s the biggest, and people talk about all the different committees there, what’s happening, what’s going on, so you can get sort of a feel of, like, what you might be interested in, or who you might want to talk to, um, so that’s really great. Or, you can go to the Stewards’ Council meeting; it’s super open and friendly. Um, we would never turn – like, nobody’s gonna [sic] turn you away. Nobody – nobody’s gonna [sic] be like, “mmm, [no].” They’re all very friendly, very welcoming. But, also, if you have concerns and you want to talk to somebody, Andrea and Natalie and Bruce are just super great. You know, they’ll sit down with you if you want to go get lunch with them or you just want to – just want to have a chat over some coffee. They are so great because they have so much knowledge about unions, but they’re also very friendly, and they really understand what it’s like to approach the union from lots of different angles.
GRACE: Yeah, that’s a really great point is that the staff is super available. And, I mean, they are really important for our support structure. So, yeah, you know, just shout out to Natalie, Bruce, and Andrea for being there and being awesome. You can also visit us at the GEO offices at the McKinley Foundation on 5th Street. Um, and then, finally, could you tell us a little bit about how being active in GEO impacted your experience at UIUC, your research, your studies?
SARA: I mean I have to say that sort of GEO gave me a second community to be in. Like, when you’re a graduate student, your primary community is your department, and that, at times, can be very stressful. Um, it can also be like – sometimes you just need some space because, like, research projects and all that stuff are going on and sometimes you just need a breather, right, from all that work because you can’t work 24/7. It’s very tempting to work 24/7 [both laugh] it’s not good for you. Don’t – Don’t overwork, guys, if you have an [teaching, research or grad] appointment, keep an eye on those hours. But, I have to say, going to the meetings taught me a little bit about research while still being very much engaged on a University-level, getting to know the people, getting to know what they were interested in. That sort of gave me a place that I could feel comfortable, right, it gave a place to sort of grow in different ways, than my Department was going to give me. And, you know, sometimes I would show up to meetings an hour early just to go sit in [both laugh] the room with Andrea, Natalie, and Bruce and just talk or relax or breathe, and just really sort of be present in the space that I’ve come to find is just so, honestly, home-like, um, and just really really welcoming. That, you know, it was nice; it was a good way to really engage with the community in a space that was still very grad student friendly.
GRACE: That’s really great to hear. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me and, um, hopefully if you’re watching this, you’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a Stewards’ Council member and we hope to see you at GEO.
On Tuesday May 19, 2016, the Coordinating Committee and Stewards’ Council Co-Chairs spent the afternoon hashing out ideas for the 2016-2017 academic year. We have a lot of ideas, events, and activities that we can’t wait to share with you! We think it’s going to be a great year!
As always, if you have any suggestions, ideas, or concerns, please reach out to us at email@example.com or drop by the office. We’d love to hear from you!
This year we had another great GEO party, but it couldn’t have happened without the help of a lot of people.
A huge thank you to Pizza-M for your service last night. We greatly appreciate your time, dedication, and professionalism. You help make our parties great. GEO members, next time you see the good people at Pizza M, be sure to tell them thank you.
To all the volunteers, thank you, especially the Stewards Council Co-Chairs past and present (Shawn Fields, Sara Roncero-Menendez, Xander Hazel, and Christian A. Millan Hernandez). Your work made the party possible. Juan Andrés Suárez thank you for keeping us entertained all night with your playlist.
To our staff, we couldn’t do this without you. Members, next time you seeAndrea Herrera Orrala, Anna Machalski, Chey Teresi, and Paul, please tell them how much you appreciate their work on this event and everything else. Although Natalie Uhl Nagel couldn’t make it to the party, she deserves a shoutout for all the work she does to make this union run.
Finally, last but not least, thank you, members. Thank you for the work you do for the university, for your students, for your departments, and for your Union. This is all for you.
Dear President Killeen,
I was struck by your decision to stop by and visit with the NTFC members working outside your office. You may be wondering why the NTFC members are striking again. After all didn’t negotiations just start today? Being from SUNY and new to UIUC, you may not be familiar with our history with crooked administrators.
Former UIUC President Michael Hogan raised his salary to more than $100,000 dollars more than his predecessor. He alienated faculty by increasing the role of University administration. Hogan resigned in 2012 after over 200 professors, including endowed chairs and distinguished professors called for his removal. He was followed by Robert Easter, known as “the accidental president.”
Our troubles didn’t end there. Last year, Phyllis Wise resigned amid a controversy over the use of her personal email for University-related communications, in violation of Illinois law. This was following “external issues” that had plagued the end of her tenure. Steven Salaita had been preparing to move to Illinois to join the faculty at UIUC, but was informed by Chancellor Wise in August of 2015 that his position would not be recommended for approval by the Board of Trustees. This resulted in censure by the American Association of University Professors and national embarrassment.
The Athletics Department has also been subject to scandals. Former head coach Matt Bollant was accused of abusing female basketball players verbally and harassing them. Although parents submitted letters describing the abuse, the Office of Diversity, Equity, Access, and Human Resources found no violation of laws or University policy. Similarly, after allegations of abuse by players, former football coach Tim Beckman was fired. Although Beckman was fired for forcing injured players to play, UIUC had to pay him $250,000 because he was “wrongful[ly] terminated.”
These scandals aren’t only present at the executive level. The GEO has been meeting about two different arbitrations this year. In one of the arbitrations, the arbitrator ruled that the University needed to provide the GEO with reasons why appointment letters were sent beyond the deadline in the contract. However, in a meeting with the GEO, Craig Hoefer, a University counsel, stated, “Even if we were able to issue you all the letters there’s not going to be much in the way of damages.” Late appointment letters mean that graduate employees face months of uncertainty about their employment, leading to stress; however, all Hoefer sees it is a financial decision that affects the University’s bottom line. Late appointment letters also make it difficult to make financial decisions like signing a lease and may make it difficult for international students to get a visa.
Similarly, NTFC is asking for multi-year contracts for stability for their members and their families, as well as their students. Although the University claims that multi-year contracts are already University policy, most NTFC faculty who are eligible do not have multi-year appointments. Likewise, the GEO contract specifies when departments should send appointment letters to graduate employees, yet the University does not want to abide by the agreement. University officials at all levels seem to balk at anything beyond discussing “principles.” If the University can’t make strides to abide by policies already in place, why should we trust administrators?
President Killeen, I think you’re a trustworthy administrator, but it’s hard to trust you because we know the people you work with. Despite the teaching and research done by NTFC and GEO members, the administration doesn’t honor agreements already in place. It’s hard to trust people who don’t respect your work. If your administration respects our work, then they need to show us.
Describing an interaction between a scientist and a member of the public, Stephen Hawking stated, “A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: ‘What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.’ The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, ‘What is the tortoise standing on?’ ‘You’re very clever, young man, very clever,’ said the old lady. ‘But it’s turtles all the way down!’” Right now, the evidence shows us that the administration is crooked administrators all the way down. Maybe this isn’t true, but we have no reason to believe otherwise. All the evidence shows that the administration does not respect us. They are late to meetings. They do not respond to emails for days or weeks. They claim that University policy works when the evidence shows that it doesn’t. If you want us to trust you, you need to give us a reason.
A concerned graduate student and member of the University community
The Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition (NTFC) struck last week after a year and a half contract negotiations. Throughout the negotiation process, the NTFC has been disrespected by the administration. Today, members and supporters worked inside the Henry Administration Building (HAB) while negotiations were going on. Although President Killeen made overtures yesterday by visiting with NTFC members and supporters while they worked in the HAB, no such benevolence was found at the bargaining table today. One of NTFC’s key contract provisions is multi-year contracts, rather than being re-appointed annually. This would provide stability for NTFC faculty, their families, and their students, but today the administration told them that the departments should determine multi-year contracts, not the collective bargaining agreement. After over 10 hours of negotiation, no agreement could be reached. The administration is refusing to bargain collectively, so the NTFC is forced, again, to act.
The NTFC will be striking beginning on April 28, 2017, at 8am. Altgeld Hall, English Building, and Henry Administration building will be affected. They need our support now more than ever. NTFC faculty are re-appointed every year, meaning at the end of the year they won’t have appointments. They are taking a major risk by striking and hoping that it will pay off with benefits for all NTFC members. We need you to support NTFC any way you can. It’s a busy time of the semester, but an hour or two on the picket line would help bolster NTFC’s morale and show them that we have their backs. If we let the administration trample NTFC’s right to collectively bargain, then our own contract agreement could be at risk when we bargain in 2017. The NTFC’s motto is “Education First,” but the University hasn’t put education first. They’ve disrespected educators who work closely with undergraduates every day by being unwilling to offer them the stability and support they need to do their jobs well. This is not simply about the NTFC, it’s about the fate of the University as an institution of higher education.
What can you do to help?
- Call Provost Feser at 217-333-6677. Today, so many people called Provost Freser in support of NTFC that he asked the leader of the bargaining team to get people to stop. We can’t let up. The administration needs to know that faculty and researchers who make this university run deserve respect.
- Show up to the picket line. The picket line starts at 8am. Any amount of time is appreciated.
- Tell a friend about the NTFC. We need to make sure that everyone understands why they’re striking and what’s a stake.
- Move your class if it’s in a targeted building. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help moving your class.
UIUC Non-tenure Faculty Coalition (NTFC Local 6546) calls 2-day strike for April 19 & 20
Our non-tenure track colleagues will strike starting tomorrow, Tuesday April 19, at 7:45am. GEO supports the right of any workers to collectively withhold their labor to achieve fair working conditions. Our non-tenure faculty have worked hard for 18 months to negotiate a fair first contract with the university administration. We call on all members of the campus community to support NTFC.
NTFC main contract goals are non-economic. They are asking for language securing multi-year contracts and on-time appointment letters (similar to the arbitration GEO won this year). The administration says these are and should stay a matter of policy. Under current policies about 300 of the 500 non-tenure track faculty should have a multi-year contract; this year 19 faculty were given a multi-year contract. They are asking for identical language to the contract given to University of Illinois-Chicago non-tenure track faculty.
Important information for graduate employees
If you are currently under contract (TAs and GAs) you cannot legally withhold your labor in solidarity. GEO asks members to continue doing their work as usual. However, you can legally support a work action. This means: you can move your labor out of picketed buildings, you can join picket lines and otherwise publicly support NTFC without retaliation, and you cannot be compelled to do work that non-tenure track faculty normally do. If you are being asked to do someone else’s work you can stop a meeting and request union representation (these are your Weingarten Rights). GEO representatives can help you (email@example.com).
The results of this work action have great implications for GEO’s next bargaining cycle, which begins next year. Now is the time to show the administration that workers make this university run and we will stick together when they try to exploit us.
How can I support NTFC?
The most important thing you can do to support NTFC is to walk the picket line, even if only for an hour or two. Picketing will be Tuesday, April 19th and Wednesday, April 20th.
Location: English Building, Main Quad
- 7:45am-4:30pm: Picketing around English building
- 12pm: Rally (both days)
- 4:30pm: March from English to Swanlund Administration Building (both days)
- 5pm: Rally at Swanlund Administration Building (both days)
Peak hours will be 8am on Tuesday, the 12pm rally (English Building) and 5pm rally (Swanlund Administration Building).
Other forms of support:
- Spread the word about our struggle. Share NTFC’s social media posts on Facebook and Twitter (NTFC Local 6546). Use #faircontractnow and #westandwithntfc6546
- Want to share a solidarity picture, but don’t have social media? Email it to GEO and we’ll share it for you!
- Here is a poster you can print or post on social media.
- Sign and share this petition to show you stand with us.
- Donate to the strike fund to support members that may lose wages as a result of participating in the strike.
Feel free to contact NTFC lead organizer, Meghan Bohardt at 216-316-3787 for questions or assistance.