GEO and UI Administration Reach Agreement in First-Ever Negotiations

GEO Wins Union Rights for Nearly 2,500 Graduate Employees

June 6, 2002

The GEO and the University Administration today announced a joint
agreement on the composition of a bargaining unit
for graduate employees.
The agreement, if approved by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations
Board (IELRB), would give nearly 2500 graduate employees the right to
vote in a union election and select the GEO as their official representative.

"This is a real victory for the GEO," said Uma Pimplaskar,
GEO’s negotiating team leader. "We’ve been working for this moment
for the last seven years. It proves what we’ve long known — that when
grads stick together and fight for their rights, we can win. We appreciate
the administration’s efforts to bargain with us in good faith and we look
forward to this spirit of cooperation continuing throughout the election
and into the collective bargaining process. When we work together, graduate
employees, the university, and the students benefit."

The GEO and the Administration agreed to out-of-court settlement negotiations
on March 13th after GEO members and supporters staged a sit-in at the
Swanlund Administration Building. The negotiations were the first time
the Administration had met formally with the GEO, which won 64% of the
votes in a 1997 union election. A tentative agreement was reached on April
29th, and was ratified by the GEO membership in a secret-ballot referendum
that concluded on May 1st. The agreement gives union rights to almost
all Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants, but excludes Research
Assistants and those with the newly created title of Pre-professional
Graduate Assistant.

While more exact numbers will not be known until the fall 2002 semester,
as many as 2500 graduate employees will be eligible to vote in a union
election and be covered by a union contract. The numbers represent an
increase of approximately 800% from the initial ruling made by the Labor
Board in spring 2001. If, as GEO members hope, the Labor Board approves
the settlement, the GEO would represent the third-largest bargaining unit
of grad employees in the country, after Florida and Wisconsin-Madison.

"Once we win the election next year, we’ll be able to sit down with
the Administration and talk about our working conditions," said GEO
Co-President Jon Coit. " A union contract is the best way to protect
grads on this campus, especially in this time of budget cuts."

The GEO realizes that it must still fight for all graduate employees,
even those excluded from any union election and contract. "We’ve
been working to help grads for seven years, and we’re going to continue
to advocate for the best interests of every grad on this campus,"
said GEO Co-President Rosemary Braun, who, as an RA in Physics, will not
be eligible to vote in a union election. "Just because some grads
won’t be covered by a union contract is no reason to ignore their interests.
We can still help them with problems and draw attention to their grievances."

The GEO is affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the
American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The AFT — which represents more
than 1.2 million teachers, paraprofessionals and other school support
employees, higher education faculty, nurses and other healthcare workers,
and state and local government employees — has been organizing and supporting
graduate employees for more than 30 years and currently represents over
14,000 graduate employees in 13 locals nationwide.

Want to know more? Contact the GEO office at (217)344-8283 or geo@uigeo.org.