GEO Members work-in outside Henry Administration Building

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: GEO MEMBERS WORK-IN OUTSIDE HENRY ADMINISTRATION BUILDING

 

Urbana-Champaign (April 1, 2016): The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO, IFT/AFT Local 6300) is holding a work-in on the quad outside the Henry Administration Building from 8:30 until noon on Friday, while members of the grievance team meet with university administrators. In January a federal arbitrator ruled in favor of the GEO and against the University of Illinois regarding a change in practice where academic departments were seeking cash reimbursement of tuition waivers from departments that hired their student as teaching or graduate assistants. The university administration has not indicated whether they will comply with the legally binding arbitration. Friday was the earliest time the university was willing to meet with the GEO since the ruling in January.

 

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. 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.

 

In January a federal arbitrator agreed with the GEO that the Masters in Computer Science (MCS) program’s policy change violated their collective bargaining agreement with the University of Illinois. Sherwood Malamud wrote that “The MCS action upsets the full panoply of assumptions that underlie the University framework of support for graduate students. It reduces the value of the tuition waiver, when it imposes the costs of the tuition waiver on the employing unit, the unit granting the assistantship. The tuition waiver is transformed from the primary form of compensation to a competitive disqualifying cost.”

 

The arbitration ruling has potentially far-reaching consequences on the UIUC campus as more than 90% of departments have a designation that the administration argues allows them to seek cash reimbursement for the cost of tuition waivers. Functionally, seeking reimbursement renders assistants in those departments largely unemployable and without the protection of a collective bargaining agreement and its benefits. The arbitrator found that seeking reimbursement violates the current contract between the GEO and the University of Illinois.

 

The policy change in MCS was 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 sought 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 came to the University of Illinois with extensive experience as teaching assistants in both computer science and engineering. For this skill they were offered positions and paid as “hourly” employees for the same work done by other graduate employees who receive a salary, health, dental, and eye care insurance, and a tuition waiver.

 

“We have been trying to schedule a meeting with the administration for months to discuss a remedy in this case, as directed by the federal arbitrator. We are disappointed that it’s taken so long for the university administration to respond, and we hope they will comply with the legally binding ruling in our favor” said Grace Hébert, the GEO Grievance Officer.

 

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 Grace Hébert, at (512)461-2331 or gracehebert@gmail.com. More information can also be found on our website

at uigeo.org.

 

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Tuition Waivers are Under Attack!

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!

Questions?

Contact GEO at geo@uigeo.org or 217-344-8283

GEO is hiring temporary organizers!

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.

Qualifications:
● 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 geo@uigeo.org. Also provide names and contact information for at least two references. Please email geo@uigeo.org 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.

GEO GOES TO ARBITRATION FOLLOWING ANOTHER CHANGE IN TUITION WAIVER POLICY

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: GEO GOES TO ARBITRATION IN A CASE AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY FOLLOWING ANOTHER CHANGE IN TUITION WAIVER POLICY

 

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 rebeccanne16@gmail.com. More information can also be found on our website

at uigeo.org.

 

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GEO Solidarity Vigil Wraps Up with a Busy Week of Action

On Saturday, April 9, eight members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO 6300) got on a bus headed to a rally for workers rights in Chicago—this marked the last event in a series of rallies, work-ins, campus talks and other activities GEO participated in as part of a ‘Solidarity Vigil’ over the past eight weeks.  Started in response to the unprecedented attacks on labor and public education taking place in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and right here in Illinois—the GEO called a Solidarity Vigil to give local unionists and community members an opportunity to participate a coordinated, member-driven effort in support of the national movement to fight back against these attacks.

The Vigil began on February 21, with a rally initiated by the Campus Faculty Association.  Since then there have been three more campus rallies—which have included participation from both on campus and off-campus unions, community members, undergraduates and even local high school students.  In total, more than 500 people have attended these rallies in support of worker’s rights, making their voices heard.

In addition to the rallies, throughout the Vigil the GEO sponsored two talks, three movie nights, a meet-and-greet with the Indiana Democratic Representatives who were exiled here in Champaign-Urbana to protect worker’s rights in their state, as well as two weeks of work-ins at the Student Union.  Dozens of GEO members took part in these events, alongside faculty, undergraduates and brothers and sisters from other unions on campus.  GEO members have also joined in multiple pickets in support of the Champaign area Construction Local and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  We sent more than 100 of our members to Madison, Wisconsin, along with supplies for the protestors there.  More than two-dozen made two trips to rallies in Indianapolis, and we also worked hard to show our support of the Indiana Representatives while they were here in town—bringing them cookies, messages from home, and getting to know these courageous legislators.

“What strikes me about the past eight weeks is the unbelievable solidarity I have witnessed,” said Katie Walkiewicz, GEO Co-President.  “These activities have strengthened our relationship with other unions on campus, as well in the wider Champaign-Urbana community.  I have had the opportunity to talk with Champaign teachers, to march alongside AFSCME members, to hear the concerns of workers in SEIU.  It has been a powerful experience, and one that is sure to strengthen the union-movement in this community.”

While the vigil went on a bit of a hiatus during Spring Break, this past week marked a “Week of Action” to culminate the solidarity efforts.  On April 4, the GEO hosted a rally at the Alma Mater Statue—as part of a national day of action to commemorate the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dedication to civil rights and workers rights.  The next day four GEO members headed to Springfield to urge our legislators there to support education worker’s rights.

Then on Friday, April 8, the GEO hosted a round table discussion with members of SEIU to talk about their potential upcoming work action here on campus.  Approximately 30 people joined in the discussion, and learn more about the concerns and hopes of SEIU members.

The week ended with the trip to Chicago. Also on the bus were members of other local unions including the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), the Illinois Education Association (IEA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and a few community organizations, who made the trip and joined with thousands in Daley Square to stand up for workers rights.

The GEO now is calling its Solidarity Vigil to a close—but that does not mean the fight ends here.  With a potential strike by SEIU coming very soon, as well as the continued attack on tuition waivers impacting many of our own members in the College of Fine and Applied Arts—there remains work to be done.  The last eight weeks have taught us much about the power of labor when we come together and unite in a common struggle.  These are lessons we will bring to our ongoing fights in the upcoming weeks, months, and years ahead.

GEO Response to DI Article

While the GEO was pleased to see the 2-page article in Wednesday’s Daily Illini covering the history and structure of our organization, there were several issues presented which bear further clarification.
The article stated:
“But fewer than half of those assistants are actually union members and thus have no say in how the union budget is spent our how policy is set.”
As the article mentions, Illinois is a “Fair-Share” state; this means that all Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants on campus are automatically represented by the GEO. The GEO signed card membership fluctuates between 47-51%.  This percentage is actually typical of graduate employee unions throughout the United States.  The GEO represents all of those in our bargaining unit, and any assistant interested in having a say in budget or policy decisions can do so by signing a membership card.  The GEO holds regular meetings to gather member feedback and works hard to ensure that any interested assistant has the opportunity to participate in their union.  We pride ourselves on being a democratic, member-driven organization.
“Adding to the union’s challenges is that more than two-thirds of the dues they collect go to parent unions, one of which they say they have almost no contact with.”
The GEO has strong relationships with the Illinois Federation of Teachers:
1.  We meet regularly with our IFT staff representative to consult on union matters.
2.  During the past year alone the IFT has provided trainings for our membership in both the Illinois legislative process and grievances.
3.  The IFT provides legal advice, legislative advice, and other practical guidance for the GEO regularly.
4.  Two GEO members attended the IFT conference this year, where we were able to vote for both the leadership of the IFT and the platform of issues important to the organization.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers is our local contact to the larger American Federation of Teachers,  While we do not converse as often with the AFT, we also have an active, working relationship with this parent union:
1.  The GEO is very active in the AFT’s Alliance of Graduate Employee Locals (AGEL), which is the group within AFT which specifically works on graduate student worker issues.  Currently GEO member Christopher Simeone is the Co-President of AGEL.
2. The AFT provides the opportunity for the GEO to meet other graduate workers throughout the country, an invaluable way to share ideas, strategies and tactics.
3.  The GEO works with AFT staff located in Washington concerning federal legislative issues important to our members.
4.  Seven GEO members attended the AFT conference this year, where we were able to vote for both the leadership of the AFT and the platform of issues important to the organization.
Most importantly, affiliation with the IFT and AFT means that the GEO stands in solidarity with 80,000 educational workers in the State of Illinois and 1.5 million educational workers nation-wide.  This affiliation gives GEO support and strength it could never achieve on its own.
“Two years ago, 1,100 union members struck for one day, to ensure tuition waiver security in the College of Fine and Applied Arts.”
The GEO went on strike for two days in 2009 to protect tuition waivers for all graduate workers we represent in all departments and schools.

MARCH 16 SOLIDARITY EVENTS

Noon:  “Support Our Service Workers” Rally and March.  Support SEIU!  Join in a rally at the Alma Mater at Noon—we will then march to the Henry Administration Building.

7:30pm – 8:30pm: Meeting to discuss the intersections between the anti-war movement and the public worker fight. Wahl room at the University YMCA

As we approach March 19th, the 8th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, we hope to discuss the connection between unjust wars and occupations abroad and the current war against public workers at home. We will also brainstorm ways that we, as union members, can take action around these issues, highlighting the Iraq Veterans Against the War call-out for a March 19th mobilization to Madison, WI to stand in solidarity with workers fighting for their rights. Any other agenda points are welcome. This will be part of the ongoing GEO solidarity vigil.