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The members of the Graduate Employees Organization, Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300, AFL-CIO, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, enthusiastically endorse the America Wants to Work National Week of Action sponsored by our parent organization, the AFL-CIO.

We stand in solidarity with the National Week of Action in two ways: first, as we enter a bargaining year, our daily, weekly, and monthly organizing efforts share the common goal of increasing access to high quality graduate employment opportunities at a major public University in the United States.  In particular, our organizing efforts around increasing union membership, securing full tuition waivers for graduate employees, and insisting on fair wages and benefits have the goal of making graduate research and employment accessible to minority and working class students in the United States and Illinois.

Second, as we organize around our membership and our contract, our members continue to participate in solidarity actions with local, state, and national unions around the country.  Specifically, we endorse all actions in Champaign-Urbana connected with the AFL-CIO National Week of Action, including the Occupy C-U rally in Champaign on October 15.  We encourage our members to join other local unions and activists to demonstrate for the right of all working people to have access to good jobs.

Check out the Facebook Event page for Occupy CU (10/15) here: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=302100619806388

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: TEACHING ASSISTANTS’ UNION WINS LANDMARK ARBITRATION CASE AGAINST MAJOR PUBLIC UNIVERSITY   

Urbana-Champaign, IL (October 3): The Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has won a landmark arbitration ruling in a contract dispute with UIUC administrators over tuition waivers.

An independent arbitrator has ruled that an attempt by University of Illinois officials to reduce tuition waivers for some incoming graduate employees represents a clear violation of the contract between the union and the Illinois Board of Trustees.

Tuition waivers are a benefit of employment, which represent no cost to the University. Preventing reduction of tuition waivers will preserve quality of education at Illinois, organizers say, while protecting vital labor standards.

In November 2009, over 1,000 Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) members went on strike to prevent the reduction or elimination of tuition waivers for graduate employees. This was the fifth largest work stoppage in the United States in 2009. They GEO won contract language protecting tuition waivers for current and future Teaching and Graduate Assistants at UIUC.

In the Summer of 2010, the GEO learned of a policy change affecting tuition waivers for incoming graduate employees in several departments in the College of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA). Effective Fall of 2010, incoming graduate employees in these departments were no longer granted waivers for out-of-state tuition. Even with temporary scholarships, many Fine and Applied Arts graduate employees, earning between $7,000.00 and $9,000.00 per academic year, were left with additional fees totaling up to $1,000.00.

This change in tuition waiver policy was a clear violation of the GEO’s contract with the Illinois Board of Trustees. In 2010, the GEO filed a grievance alleging a contract violation, while GEO members launched a public awareness campaign that included email and letter drives, communication with elected officials, testimony to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, and other events.

By attempting to charge incoming graduate employees tuition in clear violation of its contract with teaching and graduate assistants, administrators have cost the University of Illinois as much as $100,000.00. This is yet another example of flawed budget priorities at UIUC, where the most vulnerable members of the University community are frequently asked to shoulder the burdens of budget shortfalls.

After an arbitration hearing in mid-July, an independent arbitrator on September 20 declared the University’s tuition waiver policy in violation of its contract with the GEO. The arbitrator ordered the U of I administration to make whole any harm done to graduate employees.

The arbitration victory marks a significant achievement for GEO members. According to GEO communications officer Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy, “not only does the ruling secure tuition waivers as a benefit of employment for graduate employees, which is absolutely necessary to maintain accessibility to public higher education at UIUC; it also helps protect the arts from budgetary cutbacks.”

While the GEO has much cause to celebrate, the story of tuition waivers and the arts at UIUC is not over. The GEO is entering another bargaining year. According to GEO Co- President Miriam Larsen, “our members are fully committed to protecting the tuition waivers that make a high quality graduate education accessible to a diverse student body.”

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For more information, please contact Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy, Communications Officer, at 858-382-2271 or rodrigo.pacheco.mcevoy@gmail.com. More information can also be found on the website at uigeo.org.

The members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300, AFL-CIO, stand in solidarity with the members of the Tacoma Education Association (TEA) and their courageous decision to strike for a fair contract.

Members of the GEO understand that withholding labor is vitally important as a tool in collective bargaining.  It was only by first authorizing and then carrying out one of the five largest work stoppages in the United States in 2009 that the GEO was able to secure any reasonable concessions from the University of Illinois Board of Trustees in our current 2009-2012 contract.

The GEO commends the TEA’s decision to withhold education labor as a necessary tool for protecting conditions necessary for a quality public education, including the support and retention of experienced teachers, protecting teachers against discrimination, and contractual protections against excessive class sizes.

The Tacoma Public School officials said that TEA members acted unreasonably, claiming the strike hurt their student’s education.  Nothing can be farther from the truth: it was the Tacoma Public Schools’ refusal to bargain fairly with the TEA that hurt students.  We know that the decision to strike is never easy, but when other options have been exhausted, striking to protect the future of public education in Tacoma is in the best interest of students, families, teachers, and other Tacoma Public School employees.

According to the Tacoma News Tribune, “TEA President Andy Coons…said teachers are modeling for their students how to be active citizens.”  The members of the GEO could not agree more, and we congratulate the TEA on their new contract.

We stand with the TEA in affirming that without a work action demonstrating the resolve and solidarity of TEA members and their allies in the community, it unlikely that the TEA could have successfully resisted district efforts to increase class sizes and denigrate the vital role that experienced teachers play in educating Tacoma’s children.

The News Tribune and other local sources argue that the manner in which the strike was resolved–with mediation overseen by Governor Christine Gregoire–demonstrates that the work action was unnecessary in the first place.  The TNT and others further suggest that the strike was just a power play by the Washington Education Association.

Let us be clear: it is obvious even from the News Tribune’s coverage that this was a strike driven by membership.  Nearly 90% of the TEA bargaining unit voted to strike, and an overwhelming majority of those voted to continue the strike in defiance of an anti-union court order.  And for elected officials to become involved in this manner, unions must first demonstrate the value of their labor through work actions and other demonstrations of solidarity.

If the TEA strike was a Washington Education Association power play, it is a wonderful example of the power of democratic decision making among working teachers to protect their rights and the interests of their students.  We at the GEO hope that other WEA locals will follow the Tacoma Education Association’s courageous example.

As university employees and members of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, we know that labor solidarity in education is necessary to protect the future of accessible and high quality public education at all levels.  We particularly urge the students, staff, faculty, administration, and alumni of Tacoma’s colleges and universities (including Tacoma Community College, the University of Washington, Tacoma, the University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University, and the Evergreen State University, Tacoma) to support the TEA in any way that they can.

In solidarity,

The members of the UIUC Graduate Employees Organization

The Graduate Employees Organization, AFT/IFT Local 6300, AFL-CIO, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, represents approximately 2,700 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 for graduate employees and a more accessible UIUC. The GEO continues to work for high quality and accessible public education in Illinois.  For more information, please contact GEO Communications Officer Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy at rodrigo.pacheco.mcevoy@gmail.com or geo@uigeo.org.

Read our related solidarity statement with the CMU Faculty Association after the jump.

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To: the members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 73, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

From: The Members of the Graduate Employees Organization, Illinois Federation of Teachers/American Federation of Teachers, Local 6300 (GEO)

We, the members of the Graduate Employees Organization, Illinois Federation of Teachers/American Federation of Teachers, Local 6300 (GEO), stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers of the Service Employees International Union, Local 73, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (SEIU Local 73), in their struggle for a good contract.

SEIU Local 73 is asking for wage increases tied to inflation, and is trying to maintain staffing levels of full-time, permanent employees.

The Administration, claiming a difficult financial situation, wants to freeze wages, and eliminate permanent food service and facilities employees, replacing them with temporary workers or outside contractors. At the same time, the University is planning to raise students’ tuition by nearly 7% in Fall–an increase that will, if the recent past is any indication, go to funding a bloated administration.

The UIUC Administration is asking workers and students to share the sacrifice, while administrators get raises.

The GEO stands with SEIU Local 73, and calls on the UIUC negotiating team to stop the months of stalling and agree to the SEIU’s contract proposals.
We call on the University system and State of Illinois to settle their back payments issues, and fully fund education in the state of Illinois.
We say it is time for the spending priorities of the University to reflect its founding mission — “Learning and Labor” — rather than its recent unofficial attitude to its employees of “Learning to Labor for Less.”

If the UIUC Negotiating team does not bargain with SEIU Local 73, and forces SEIU Local 73 to take strike action on April 18, as the members of SEIU Local 73 have indicated they are willing to do, the members of the GEO will support the sisters and brothers of SEIU Local 73, just as members of SEIU Local 73 supported us during our strike in 2009. The GEO does not support a wildcat strike or withholding labor in any way, but GEO members will join the SEIU picket lines in solidarity in their free time.

The members of SEIU Local 73 are fighting for the future of public employees in the state of Illinois, just as hundreds of thousands did in Wisconsin earlier this year.

As GEO members stands with public employees in Wisconsin and elsewhere, we stand in solidarity with our fellow public employees here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In Solidarity,
The Members of the GEO

Urbana-Champaign (February 26, 2011):  This morning carloads of Graduate Employee Organization members (GEO, IFT/AFT Local 6300), along with other workers and students headed up to Madison, Wisconsin and Springfield, Illinois to join the nation-wide protests taking place today in support of union workers. 

“The GEO is going to Wisconsin to be a part of this historic day,” Katie Walkiewicz, GEO Co-President said.  “We want our fellow-graduate student workers—the Teaching Assistant Association of Wisconsin—and all of those protesting in Madison to know that Champaign-Urbana stands with them.”

These trips are part of an on-going 24-7 Solidarity Vigil launched by the GEO this past Tuesday.

The vigil began with a rally attended by more than 125 people sponsored by the Campus Faculty Association.  Since then, the vigil has featured a series of rallies, talks, films, and other events.  The vigil is centered at the campus YMCA (1001 S. Wright Street) and some GEO members have spent the night in the Y as sign of solidarity with those sleeping in the capitol in Madison.

A highlight of the vigil came on Thursday, when in a surprise visit, Indiana Democratic Senator Clyde Kersey addressed a crowd of about 50 people at the YMCA.  Kersey is one of the members of the Indiana Democratic caucus that have fled their state to block anti-union and anti-public-education legislation. The representatives are staying in Urbana, and have garnered a lot of support from local unions during the past week.

The crowd at the Y greeted Kersey with enthusiasm. “How long will we be out?” Representative Kersey said. “As long as it takes.”

Last night, campus workers, students, and their children decorated cookies with solidarity images including badgers and union slogans while others made picket signs in preparation for today’s protests.  The GEO also took donations of hand sanitizer, socks, cereal, vitamin C tablets and other materials needed by the Wisconsin protestors.  They will deliver the supplies today at the rally.

The GEO is also sending people to Springfield to take part in a rally at the Illinois State Capitol.

It is expected that those who headed to Wisconsin will make it back to campus late this evening.  “We might all be a little bit tired,” Kerry Pimblott, GEO member said.  “We’ve been sleeping at the Y and working in support of the workers in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio all week.  We might be a little tired, but it is worth it to support this struggle for worker’s rights.”

For more information, please contact Stephanie Seawell, GEO Co-President, 217-722-7544, stephseawell@gmail.com

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IMPORTANT UPDATE: The solidarity vigil will temporarily be relocated to the *Illini Union* from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm tomorrow (Thursday, February 24).

9 a.m.- 2 p.m.  Illini Union: Solidarity Teach-In, Grade-In, Meet-In, Drink-Coffee-In

Show your solidarity with workers in Madison and throughout the Midwest.

12 noon – 12:50 p.m. Publics, Unions, Movements: discussion with Monica Bielski Boris of the Labor Education Program

University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St., Champaign, Lower Level

(SEIU supporters can head for FAR/PAR before the 1pm picket).

Join YMCA vigil participants and community members for a discussion on the legal, social and regional dimensions of unions and union building. Have questions about collective bargaining, public resources, or solidarity tools—-then this is the place for you and your allies. Professor Monica Bielski Boris (http://www.ler.illinois.edu/faculty/fp_bielski.html), from the School of Labor and Employment Relations, will introduce a series of topics and questions, including…

* What are public sector unions? How and why do they differ from state to state?

* What competing myths and realities are at work in labor and opposition movements ?

* How are organizing tactics nurtured and altered?

* What types of political strategies are either at work or stifled in the Midwest?

* What is the state of labor and social movement education on our campus and in our communities?

1-2 p.m. SEIU Picket at the FAR (Florida Avenue Residence Hall)

On College Court near the intersection of Lincoln and Florida Residence Hall —support SEIU in their contract struggle, practice your chanting, and support workers’ rights right here in Champaign-Urbana

7 p.m., Patricio Guzman’s sterling, epic documentary The Battle of Chile, parts 1 (“The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie”, 96 minutes) and 2 (“The Coup D’Etat”, 88 minutes)

Covering workers, politics in Chile, and events leading to the coup of Salvator Allende in 1973.    We will have the opportunity to think about workers’ protests in an international context, both historically and in our present moment.

As we get settled into a new academic year, keep in mind the following first-month events with the GEO – let’s all keep up the good work to protect our contract and the future of public education in Illinois!

1.  First Steward’s Council meeting of the year, Wednesday, September 1 – thanks to everyone who attended a wonderfully productive meeting!

3.  Labor Day Parade – Monday, September 6 – thanks to the AFL-CIO of Champaign County for organizing the parade, and to all of our drum playing, banner carrying, joyful noise-making members, as well as the parade’s Grand Marshall, Kerry Pimblott!

4.  First General Membership Meeting of AY 2010-11 – Thursday, September 9, 5:30 pm in the YMCA, 1001 S. Wright Street in Champaign.  We’ll be discussing organizing plans for the coming year, and in particular continuing to build on the strategies to combat the contract violations around FAA tuition waiver policy that members began to develop at the tuition waiver forum in July.

5.  Stay tuned for upcoming GEO organizing around the Board of Trustees meeting in Urbana on September 22 and the second National Day of Action to Defend Public Education on October 7th.