Graduate employees hold rally for higher pay
Published Online Dec 7, 2006
By Christine Des Garennes
With temperatures hovering around freezing and less than a week to go before final exams begin, University of Illinois graduate employees took a break from studying and grading Wednesday to rally on campus for higher pay.
The Graduate Employees’ Organization and the UI have been negotiating for a new contract since April. Several rallies and more than a dozen bargain sessions later, the two sides are still in discussions. Recently, tensions rose between the UI and the union when they started negotiating wages.
The current minimum graduate stipend the salary a graduate student earns as a research assistant or teaching assistant is $12,220. That salary is for a 50-percent time, nine-month appointment. That stipend can be higher depending on the student’s appointment. About one in five graduate employees earns the minimum stipend, said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
Under the current UI proposal, the stipend would rise by 2.5 percent to $12,586 for 2006-2007. For 2007-2008, assistants would make a minimum of $12,963 and in 2008-2009 the minimum would increase to $13,354.
But that’s not enough to cover the rising costs of living for a student, said union members.
The stipend “is the primary source of income for students,” said Christopher Simeone, graduate student and negotiator for the union. “Our own minimum stipend doesn’t meet the published figures (by the UI’s Office of Admissions and Records) for what it takes to live in Champaign-Urbana,” Simeone said.
According to that office’s Web site, graduate student expenses average close to $14,000 a year in Champaign-Urbana for room, board and other living expenses.
Also at issue are health care costs and the other student fees the graduate employees pay the university.
“Fees eat a significant portion of the stipend,” said William Hope, graduate employee and union member.
The health care premium for a graduate employee is $256 per semester or $756 a year. But add a spouse and children to the plan, and graduate employees could spend more than $1,000 per semester for health coverage.
“For some students it’s more cost effective to fly back to their home country to receive care there, and that includes the cost of airfare,” Simeone said.
Completely waiving the health fees is “not doable because it’s very expensive to do. We’ve waived many fees vision, dental fees, the McKinley Health Center fee,” Kaler said.
The UI currently covers $100 per semester of the student health care fee. In the current proposal to the union, the UI would increase that amount to $130 per semester beginning Aug. 16, 2007. And it would increase up to $140 per semester in 2008.
The next bargaining session is scheduled for Dec. 13.
“We have an outstanding offer and have been waiting four weeks for a response. We’re hoping for a response at that meeting,” Kaler said of Dec. 13.
If there is no settlement soon, the two sides can request federal mediation.
The union’s contract expired at the end of August.
Grad workers, officials begin contract talks
Published Online Apr 27, 2006
By Christine Des Garennes
URBANA After he turned 25, David Morris had to strike out on his own to find health insurance.
No longer covered under his father’s health care plan, the University of Illinois graduate student turned to the UI for coverage.
Keeping himself healthy hasn’t come cheap.
Morris, now 26, spent about $3,600 last year on unreimbursable medical expenses, most of which were associated with treating his diabetes.
That’s about 20 percent of his annual income from working as a graduate teaching assistant.
And then there are the student fees and health insurance fees to contend with.
Health care “is a very important issue for many, many graduate employees,” Morris said.
With the rising cost of health care and student fees on their minds, members of the UI’s Graduate Employees’ Union started negotiations with university administration this week.
Their aim: to assemble a new contract they hope will lower student fees and provide for better health care.
The negotiations come at a time when the university has increased tuition for undergraduate and graduate students and created a new $250 per semester fee to cover maintenance on its buildings. The UI is expected to receive a 1.4 percent increase in state funding from last year.
“We’re hoping to come up with the best package we can, within the constraints of what we can afford to do,” said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
“The big concern for me is (health insurance) cost,” said Patrick Berry, a graduate student in English. Berry, who has a wife and a 6-year-old daughter, pays about $4,000 a year for health insurance through the UI.
“When you’re a graduate student and funded on a stipend, that’s a big chunk of your income,” he said.
The current union contract, which was finalized in July 2004 (but retroactive to 2003), will expire in August. It included a 9 percent cost-of-living increase over the course of the contract, about 3 percent each year; a full waiver of the McKinley Health Center fee; and a $100 per semester subsidy of the Student Health Insurance fee. The McKinley Health Center fee is not part of the Student Health Insurance Plan fee.
Current health insurance fees for graduate students are $230 per semester for a student and $940 for a spouse. Coverage for children is $454 per semester, no matter how many children. The summer session is considered a semester.
“We want to make sure graduate students don’t have to choose between paying fees, which are a substantial part of your income, and buying some groceries,” said Michael Simeone, a UI graduate student and union member.
The first meeting between the union and the UI was on Tuesday, and the next is scheduled for May 19, Kaler said.
The negotiating team expects to meet every few weeks, for as long as it takes to come to an agreement.
The contract covers about 2,700 graduate employees.
The Daily Illini
LETTER: Financial issues with graduate students
While the University’s president resolves to make Illinois the best public university in the nation, the University’s negotiating team proposes a contract for graduate employees that will make top quality graduate students think twice about coming to a university that offers them so little. While the University’s administrators take pride in the school’s excellent reputation for research and teaching, they ask the graduate students who contribute to the school’s reputation to accept a contract that will reduce their real wages each year, not match rising fees and leave hundreds of graduate students paying significantly more money than they make each year.
It is time for University administrators to recognize the growing divide between their rhetoric and reality. According to the University’s own statistics, the cost of living for graduate students is almost $1000 more than the minimum stipend for graduate employees. The University’s current proposal to graduate employees offers wage increases that will not keep up with inflation, insuring that each year graduate students will have to pay even more of their own money.
The University’s lead negotiator Steve Veazie has said that graduate students have “a pretty good deal” because they get a tuition waiver and a minimum $12,500 stipend. But this “pretty good deal” is not competitive with peer institutions. Steve Veazie might think paying hundreds of dollars more than you make each semester is a pretty good deal, but top quality graduate students won’t. Quite simply, Illinois cannot maintain its status, let alone strive for something higher, if it cannot attract top quality graduate students. Veazie has suggested that the University cannot afford to pay graduate students better. In reality, the University cannot afford to make graduate students accept a regressive contract.
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
Graduate employees, University continue to negotiate earnings
The University and the Graduate Employees Organization are in continuing negotiations over the issues of earnings and insurance for teaching assistants and graduate students.
Steve Veazie, the University attorney involved with the negotiations, said that the University would like to make clear a number of ambiguities over GEO negotiations and the contracts that have been proposed.
He said that the remaining issues to be resolved are also perhaps the most important. The proposal made by the University was a three-year contract with increases to stipends in each of three years and changes made to the insurance plan.
The proposed graduate employee minimum salary rate for teaching assistants and graduate assistants, on average, was a $12,586 annualized salary or a 2.5 percent increase, whichever is greater, each year. The amount that graduate employees are paid varies for each department, with some, such as engineering, giving greater pay. He said that about 25 percent of the teaching assistants are paid at the minimum level.
“Graduate students are also getting a fee waiver, $12,500 added to the tuition fee waiver. It’s a pretty good deal,” Veazie said.
Others seem to disagree.
“It’s important to remember that a tuition waiver is not wages. A labor agreement includes wages, and tuition waivers are not included in our discussions about wages,” said Christopher Simeone, head spokesman for the GEO.
He also said that one would not want to be paid for one’s eligibility to be an employee and that if there was no tuition waiver, then a graduate student would have to pay simply to work at the University.
“The GEO is ignoring the fact that we’re putting substantial money on the line when we’re proposing a 2.5 percent increase for 2,800 assistants and about the same number of research assistants,” Veazie said.
Veazie said that one of the main reasons for difficulty in forging the contract comes from the fact that there are so many departments in the University, and each one has done something different.
“The University’s proposal is about $1.2 million, which is about the top administrators’ salaries added together,” Simeone said.
Brian Dolber, graduate student, said that the University has come across “as a completely disrespectful institution that doesn’t care about students or employees but only care about their bottom line.”
The GEO is not ignoring what the University has put on the table, but they are keeping things in “financial perspective,” Simeone added.
Departments are competing to attract the best students from California, Michigan and Wisconsin. The University is doing its best to bring in people at a competitive rate, Veazie said.
“It’s a sort of matrix of things,” said Veazie, referring to the complexities in the contract creation process.
The GEO is generally disappointed with the proposal, as it doesn’t meet the graduate students’ needs, Simeone said.
“We don’t want to talk about any wage deduction as a raise until it is a raise over the cost of inflation. Any raise under the rate of 3.6 percent isn’t really a raise,” Simeone said.
However, Veazie said that the inflation rate is not guaranteed to any University employee.
“There is no policy or practice to pay commensurate with inflation,” he said. “The cost of living is there, but there’s also the state budget, which has been pretty stagnant over the past three or four years.”
Veazie said that before his last meeting with the GEO, which was held on Nov. 14, the University was ready to “stay as long as it took to get things settled.” The GEO was unable to give any response that day and did not wish to meet for another four weeks.
The University would be willing to meet before then, he added.
“It’s very important at this stage of negotiations that the union respond directly to us, but instead they characterized our offer in the press,” Veazie said.
Simeone said that the union has been responding to the University throughout the process but that the public also has a right to know about the process.
“We’re not ashamed of anything that we’re doing at the bargaining table, and therefore we don’t have any problems talking about the bargaining process with the public,” he said.
“We think our offer is very fair given the context of state budget constraints and other employees,” Veazie said.
Veazie said that the University is ready to settle on a fair contract for graduate students and that they are frustrated by the delay, referring to the four-week break between meetings.
The University’s negotiating team has “repeatedly stalled and delayed” in regard to issues such as health care and wages, Dolber said.
This is not the absolute final configuration of the contract, but it’s close to that, Veazie said. He said that if the union wants “a lot more,” then the next step would be mediation.
“The next step for both parties is to listen. We’re happy that the University wants to settle sooner rather than later, but we won’t settle for anything that’s unfair,” Simeone said.
The next meeting will be held Dec. 13.
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
Grad employees remain unsatisfied with contract
Wage increases deemed ‘disrespectful’
The University and the Graduate Employees’ Organization met in a bargaining session Tuesday in order to continue negotiations over a new contract. According to the GEO, the University’s new offer includes a 2.5 percent wage increase and a $15 increase to health care provisions.
Brian Dolber, communications officer with the GEO and graduate student in the Institute of Communications Research, said the economic package is “completely insufficient.” He said that the contract offered is “another sign of disrespect that they’ve shown grad employees.”
Dolber said the health care plan offered is “the same plan with $15 extra; they essentially offered us three espressos.”
The University has come across as a “completely disrespectful institution that doesn’t care about students or employees, but only cares about their bottom line,” Dolber continued.
Robin Kaler, University spokesperson, said that the University is trying to provide the best package possible to the Graduate Employees.
“I think that the University has great respect for grad students,” Kaler said. “I think we have some of the greatest grad students in the world and all our students are of our highest priority.”
The GEO expects a wage with which graduate employees will be able to live comfortably. The proposal offered does not include a living wage by the University’s standard, Dolber said.
Andrew Kennis, graduate student in Communications, citing the 3.7 percent increase in cost of living adjustment in Champaign-Urbana, said “while the administration maintains that it’s a raise, in reality it’s not keeping up with the cost of living, and so it is actually a pay cut.”
“This is especially painful in light of the fact that dependency on (teaching assistants) for the overall teaching load has been increasing for a long time,” Kennis said.
Christopher Simeone, lead negotiator for the GEO and graduate student in the English Department, said the terms that the University has offered are not acceptable.
Kaler said that the University is working within its means.
“If you look at the packages offered with any other employee group, we’re trying to do the best we can with the resources we have available,” she said.
Simeone said that if the University wants to be competitive in attracting the best developing scholars, it must also be competitive with peer institutions in regards to graduate employees’ wages and benefits.
“The progress is that the University is trying to push for a settlement sooner rather than later,” he said.
There has not been enough movement by the University toward the GEO’s proposals, Simeone said. He said that while some movement is good, it has not been enough to come to an agreement.
The University must make concessions on key issues if a settlement is to be reached, he said.
“We can’t accept proposals that are regressive,” Simeone said.
The GEO’s proposal would be affordable if the graduate employees were properly prioritized, he said. The message that the GEO is receiving is that they’re not a priority, he added.
The University is doing its best to provide the best package given its resources, Kaler said.
“We’ve been at this since April 25, and we’re going to make sure that we get something that’s to our satisfaction and to our members’ satisfaction,” Simeone said.
The University has recognized the critical role of graduate students from day one, Kaler said.
Simeone said the next bargaining session will be December 13 at 1:00 PM.
Kaler said that if the GEO would have proposed an earlier meeting, the University would have been ready to do so.
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
LETTER: Grad students call for real increase
At the Nov. 9 Board of Trustees meeting, the University’s top administrators laid out their goal to make the University of Illinois the best public university in the country. On Nov. 14, the University’s bargaining team offered graduate students a regressive contract in which graduate students’ salaries would not keep up with inflation. The University’s goal and its actions in negotiations are fundamentally incompatible.
As President White announced at the Board of Trustees meeting, in order for the University to become the top public university in the country, it must prioritize retaining and hiring the best possible faculty. No such plans exist for attracting and retaining top quality graduate students.
The proposal that the University’s negotiators offered to the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) on Tuesday calls for a wage “increase” that, again, will not even keep up with inflation. If the GEO were to accept this contract, TAs and GAs would make less money every year of their contract when cost of living increases are factored in.
If the University is serious about its desire to be the best public university, it must offer competitive wages to graduate employees, as well as faculty. The quality of education that the University of Illinois provides undergraduate students is closely linked to the caliber of its graduate students. It is in the best interest of all of us – graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty and everyone affiliated with the University – for the University to negotiate a fair contract for its valuable graduate employees.
Now is the time for all of us to show our support for the GEO in their efforts to establish a fair contract, a contract that will work toward the University’s goal to be the best public university in the nation, not against it.
History Graduate Students’ Association (HGSA)
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
Adjuncts forgotten amidst grad student negotiations
There have been ongoing negotiations between the University and graduate employees in an effort to come up with a fair and equitable contract for both sides. The graduate employees are organized and have made their presence known through demonstrations all over campus. However, another group of academic professionals has not received that recognition – adjunct faculty members.
The benefits, pay, and working conditions vary greatly amongst different members of University faculty because not every instructor at the University is full time. Adjunct faculty do not have the guaranteed work that their full-time colleagues receive.
“Most faculty in the majority of post-secondary classrooms are adjuncts,” said Joe Berry, non-tenure track instructor at the University of Illinois in the Chicago Labor Education Program Extension, part-time instructor at Roosevelt University, and author of “Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to Change Higher Education.”
Berry said that there are no set time commitments for adjunct faculty.
“The situation varies from whole year, multi-year, to (contracts that are) per course and per hour, really the academic equivalent of day labor,” he said.
At the University there is yet to be an adjunct labor movement that has “gotten off the ground,” Berry said.
Many adjuncts have more than one teaching job at a time, and most work for multiple institutes, especially in major metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Berry said. University of Illinois-Chicago has 1,112 part-time faculty members, whereas the Urbana campus has 850 part-time faculty, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
“Our teaching conditions are the students’ learning conditions,” Berry said.
He said that if adjuncts don’t have security of employment they cannot help but have a lack of preparation. He also said that the mercurial nature of adjunct life “eliminates the possibility of informal contact” on which undergraduate education depends.
Adjunct professors generally teach entry level courses, 100 to 200 level courses, said Tobias Higbie, assistant professor in the University’s Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations.
“It’s very enrollment sensitive,” Higbie said.
If a class has fewer students than expected, a professor would lose out on the opportunity, he added.
“It’s piecing together your living (as a teacher),” Higbie said.
He said that an adjunct will earn from $600 to $1200 a course at an average institution (but significantly higher at the University).
“You can’t live on that,” Higbie said.
He said that in many cases a single adjunct will work for the same university over a series of years, and potentially stay with one university for many years. He said that this results in adjunct faculty that work for a university as much as full-time professors, but don’t get near the benefits or security of a full-time professor. He said that when this happens, the adjuncts can become “second-class citizens” in an institution.
“How long can you carry on the University’s principles when you’re exploiting certain sections of your workforce?” Higbie asked.
Higbie said that the University should be a “model employer,” and not simply follow what corporations are doing.
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
University, graduate employees continue talks
Two parties still in negotiations for wages, benefits
After months of deliberation, the University and the Graduate Employee Organization are continuing negotiations over wages and benefits. On Oct. 16 they came to an agreement over professional evaluation for teaching assistants.
However, there has been little progress on the major issues of pay and other contentious matters, according to Christopher Simeone, lead negotiator of the GEO. He said that the GEO is awaiting the University’s agreement to additional bargaining dates.
Frank T. Higbie, assistant professor of history at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations, said that he has been involved with the GEO since his days as a doctoral student in the mid-1990s.
He said that much of the consternation and unwillingness of the University to recognize the union came from an unclear clause in state law as to whether or not graduate employees can organize. The University’s reading was that students cannot organize as a union, while the union’s position was that employees have the right to unionize, Higbie said.
“There is a misconception that workers stay in one place,” Higbie said, in regard to the charge that graduate employees shouldn’t organize because they are only at the University for a fixed period of time.
He said that denying workers the right to organize due to working for a limited amount of time is illogical.
“People are working for shorter and shorter periods of time at a single workplace,” Higbie said. “I worked at my first job after graduating for five years before coming back to the University and worked here for 10 years as a graduate employee.”
He said the issue comes down to whether or not workers have a right to organize and that the question of a limited term of employment is a “red herring.”
“What are they afraid of?” asked Higbie. “That the grad assistants are going to tear down the University?”
Higbie said graduate employee unions are at nearly all of the University’s peer institutions.
The University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin have been “unionized for decades,” and the University of California has been unionized for nearly a decade, said Higbie.
“The GEO fought for and won improvements in pay, dental insurance, eye-care insurance and other things,” Higbie said. “The University gave us nothing. They resisted every step of the way, and apparently they are still resisting today.”
Cary Nelson, English professor and president of the American Association of University Professors, said that the union has provided a few areas of concern to the University, such as asking it to inform international graduate students of the American 911 system.
Nelson said that when the union asked the University to inform the international graduate students of the 911 system, the University declined on the grounds that “they would not have the union micromanage their affairs.”
“Like many corporate entities, the University is not bargaining in good faith,” said Nelson. “Their primary aims are to pay grad students as little as possible, to exhaust union leadership and to decrease students’ faith in the union…I call that bargaining in bad faith.”
Nelson said that the University should be interested in doing the best for their students and not “simply extracting their labor for the lowest possible cost.”
“We are working very hard to try to make progress, and we will continue to do that,” said Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman. “We are willing and ready to work with the union to try to create a contract.”
Graduate students enrich campus, said Kaler, and the University is happy to have them. She said that the University hopes that the experience of the graduate students’ is the best that it can be.
Other University officials contacted declined to comment.
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
Graduate employees plan Union picket
Since late April, the Graduate Employees Organization has been in negotiations with the University over a new contract, but no agreements have been made. In the past few months, the union has picketed at Grainger Library, the Illini Union and other locations across campus.
Today they plan to picket at the Illini Union again.
Union members have said that they are displeased with the state of health care and other benefits offered by the University and are in intense negotiations with the University.
“It cost me $1,800 to get a root canal,” said Rachel Shulman, graduate student and employee. “That’s more than a month’s salary for me. I had to take out a student loan. And that’s always their answer: ‘Take out a student loan.’”
The poor wages and benefits offered by the University are not “financially commensurate with our responsibilities” as teaching assistants and graduate employees, Shulman said.
Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman, said the University is giving all it can to graduate students.
“We are always doing what we can to provide the best package possible with the resources we have available,” she said.
Schulman, though, said that graduate students work too hard for too few benefits.
“We’re the ones who make contact with the students, and not the professors, so informally a lot of the work falls on us,” she said. “When you become an instructor, there’s a whole slew of responsibilities beyond grading papers and tests.”
Shulman said that she also writes letters of recommendation and deals with issues of plagiarism.
She said that while she welcomes these additional responsibilities, the pay she earns does not properly correspond to the time she invests. Undergraduate education suffers due to the University’s treatment of graduate employee instructors, she added.
She said that the graduate employees have fought very hard for the right to organize, but it is the union that will fight for greater benefits.
“What we’ve experienced is a basic unwillingness to cooperate from the University,” said Christopher Simeone, graduate student and lead negotiator for the Graduate Employees Organization. “The University is not interested in genuine rational dialogue. They are interested in dragging it out as long as possible.”
“I would best describe the University’s approach as incredibly disappointing and unproductive. It’s not exaggerating to say that they have (historically) been dragged to the bargaining table,” he said.
David Morris, a graduate employee and former co-president of the Graduate Employees Organization, also said that the graduate employee health plan is similar to the undergraduate health plan but with some minor changes.
“We provide a professional service. We want professional treatment,” Morris said.
“It’s student insurance, not employee insurance,” Morris said. “The University assumes that many grad students are provided for by their parents, but that’s simply not the truth. Grad employees have partners and children.”
Simeone said that he is concerned with how the University is marketing itself toward prospective academics.
“What they’re telling developing scholars is that you’ll be impoverished and disrespected,” Simeone said. He added that if the University desires to raise its prestige, it must treat its students and employees well.
“We are not asking for a handout but instead fair compensation for the work we do,” Simeone said.
Graduate employees, he said, don’t desire luxuries but income competitive with the cost of living, studying and teaching at the University.
“It’s a sinister rhetorical trick to turn a request for compensation into a whiney plea for handouts,” Morris said.
Simeone said that the University should also supply graduate employees with the resources that they need, such as guaranteed access to an office.
“It’s a good thing that we don’t treat our jobs the way that they treat our jobs,” Simeone said.
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
University, unions talk to iron out to iron out
Poster-wielding University employees crowded the corner of Wright and Green streets last Wednesday, coming together in an effort to call attention to their expired labor contracts.
The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 698 are currently in talks with the University to iron out details for new agreements.
The GEO began negotiating its labor contract with the University April 25. The old contract had expired Aug. 15. The graduate employees are asking for an enhanced health-care plan that includes affordable care for their spouses, dependants and children. GEO Co-president Andrew Ó Baoill said the organization plans to discuss the specifics of the health-care components of the contract at its Sept. 13 meeting with the University.
“We’re looking to implement the health-care plan to be more suitable and better meet the needs of graduate students,” he said. He described the current plan as “run-of-the-mill preventative care” that better serves the needs of undergraduates than graduate students.
According to Ó Baoill, the University’s health-care plan for graduate employees is not on par with peer schools identified in the University’s 2006 strategic plan. At the University of Michigan, University of California-Berkeley and UCLA, graduate employees do not pay for basic health insurance. The same coverage at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is $99 annually.
By contrast, the campus GEO members are protesting the $260 annual fee for basic health insurance, which has improved since the GEO gained a $100-per-semester subsidy in its last contract.
Although the AFSCME contract, which expired in the fall of 2005, is stalled on issues concerning fair pay, Chris Simeone, lead negotiator for the GEO, said collaborating with groups who have similar interests is an effective way to bring attention to important issues and achieve its goals.
“We’re interested in a lot of the same kinds of issues and have a lot of the same concerns as these other unions, especially fair pay and benefits,” Simeone said, noting that the University has implemented a pay freeze on teaching assistants until an agreement is reached. “It’s not a secret that the University likes to use stall tactics and slow things down when it comes to negotiations.”
University spokesperson Robin Kaler said she hopes both unions can come to resolutions soon but appreciates union laborers voicing their opinions.
“A university is a marketplace of ideas, and I think we would be a little disappointed if we had students and employees who didn’t express their feelings,” she said.
The AFSCME Local 698 is further along in contract negotiations. A meeting between the union, the University and a federal mediator on Thursday moved things forward, Union Vice President Margaret Lewis said. However, she added, issues that have been holding up negotiations remain unsolved.
“There has been some movement on both sides since we started this,” she said. “However, I still don’t believe we’re where we need to be.”
The AFSCME Local 698 is asking for a 3-percent raise to keep up with inflation.
Lewis said the University is offering a raise equal to that of academic professionals and other employees’ pay minus 1.5 percent.
“If we let something like this into our contract, we’ll never get a raise of more than 1 percent or 1.5 percent a year,” Lewis said. “We are adamant that we can’t let this into our contract.”
Kaler said she is confident that an agreement can be reached with both sides working together.
“We feel that we’re continuing to make steady progress,” she said. “We’re working very hard to get what we can, and we hope the unions will continue to work with us to do the best we can with the resources we have available.”
With another meeting scheduled for Oct. 3, Lewis hopes that negotiations come to a timely resolution to avoid the possibility of a strike. Right now, she said, the executive board of the negotiating committee is not ready to present an offer to union members.
“We’ve never been in this position,” she said. “We’re getting close to the end, and we need to get someplace on our next negotiation session.”
As members of both unions continue to work without new contracts, they are striving to gain support for their causes.
“When we look at what the administration is willing to give themselves versus what they are willing to give front-line workers, something is seriously wrong,” Lewis said.
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
LETTER: The purpose of unions
Martha Althea Webber
In John Bambenek’s column “Unions: A Relics of the past, taxpayer frustration” Bambenek makes several value judgments about what is “not a bad wage” for teaching assistants and how “difficult” or “hard” living should be expected while one is a graduate employee, since it is not “impossible” to live.
Acting much like large employers, Bambenek forgets a fundamental purpose for the existence of labor unions: it is not for one person – like John – or one side of labor – like the University – to determine the value of labor or what conditions and benefits employees can live on, either comfortably or difficultly. Labor unions like the Graduate Employee’s Organization argue instead that employers and employees should be able to negotiate in a productive dialogue, with mutual respect on both sides of the table, what the conditions and benefits of employment should be. An employment contract that has been agreed upon by both sides ensures fairness and transparency of process to all those involved and it guarantees enforceability of the conditions laid out in the contract as well. Without such a contract, employers like the University will continue to make often uninformed and arbitrary one-sided value judgments about what its graduate employees need to be able to support themselves and their families.
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
Unions rally for raises, benefits
Members of the Central Illinois Jobs with Justice chapter hosted a rally at the Alma Mater to discuss issues concerning University union workers Tuesday afternoon. Issues included living wages, decent health care coverage and employee benefits.
The protest began at the Hallene Gateway, continued to the Main Library, the Swanlund Administration building and ended at the Alma Mater.
Protestors marched through campus with signs reading, “We will strike for equity and fairness” and “I deserve a fair raise.”
Gene Vanderport, member of the Illinois Education Association, said the intent is to give the University a message. He said important goals of the program include pension issues, retroactive pay and working together at the same time.
“This morning, President White spoke about respect. He said that the most important thing for workers is respect,” said Chris Simeone, a negotiator present at the Rally for Local Workers and graduate student. “Being respected is a start. It is about respect when it comes to payday, well-being as employees and, most importantly, respect at the bargaining table.”
Simeone said the workers are demanding decent health care and living wages.
Phil Martini, a Union Representative and member of the Service Employees International Union, was an organizer of Tuesday’s rally. He said the negotiations currently under way with the University are not going well.
Martini said the University is denying the union “retroactive pay, and refusing bargains in parking, and health care.”
Germaine Light, member of the Illinois Education Association, said the people represented here are not just limited to the University, but include community members, churches, and politicians as well.
“We are fighting for employees everywhere,” Light said. “We want good health care and pay for all employees.”
Jobs with Justice is a national organization with a branch in Chicago, Light said, and their protests are not limited to the University. Light and other members of the organization were on hand at the opening of the new Hilton Garden Inn, 1501 S. Neil St., and have protested the non-union labor at Wal-Mart Supercenter, 2610 N. Prospect Ave., before.
The University Unions United were sponsored by Central Illinois Jobs with Justice, a chapter of the National Jobs for Justice in central Illinois. The members of the Central Illinois Jobs with Justice present at the rally were the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, The Illinois Education Association, the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the Service Employees International Union.
Victor Osuna, chief negotiator of the Municipal Employees, said the unions have been in negotiations with the University for a year now. They have still not reached a contract agreement, he said.
He said the reason the unions chose to march today was to make their presence known.
“We are not going to be divided, and this is going to be an interesting process,” Asuna said.
Robin Kaler, University’s associate chancellor for public affairs, said the school is working on the contracts, and she said that she recognizes the union’s rights to organize and protest.
“We are doing everything we can to come up with a fair and equitable contract that is within the boundaries of what we can afford,” she said.
Howard Berenbaum, member of the Union of Professional Employees and professor of psychology, said his goal is to negotiate in good faith with the University and support the unions. Carol Pruett, employee of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and member of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees, a labor union representing technicians, artisans and crafts persons in the entertainment industry, said there has been much difficulty reaching an agreement with the University. She said that she and her co-workers are among the lowest paid University employees.
Pruett said there has been difficulty reaching an agreement and a federal negotiator has been called.
Nancy Coddington, fellow Krannert employee, emphasized that the most important thing is a fair contract. She joined the protests when they began in late spring. She said the contract negotiations have not gone well, thus far.
“We are fighting for fairness and pay,” Coddington said.
© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini
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