BARGAINING, Announcements, Events, and Updates July 17, 2017

Table of Contents:

  • ANNOUNCEMENTS
    • Eighth Bargaining Session
      • Ways to be Involved with Bargaining
      • Call for Testimonials
    • Call for GEO T-Shirt Slogan Ideas
    • GEO Has Moved
  • EVENTS
    • Wear It Wednesday
    • Healthcare Town Hall
    • GEO 101
    • Strategic Communications Workshop III
  • COMMITTEE UPDATES
    • RA Working Group
    • Grievance Committee
    • Stewards’ Council
    • Communications Committee
    • Solidarity Committee
      • Solidarity Statement
    • Coordinating Committee
    • Health Care Working Group
  • CONNECT WITH GEO

 

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ANNOUNCEMENTS:

 

Eighth Bargaining Session

GEO’s eighth bargaining session with the UIUC Administration will be on Tuesday, July 25, 9:00am-12:00pm, at the Illinois Fire Service Institute (11 Gerty Dr, Champaign, IL). All members are welcome! Refreshments will be provided.

Come to the bargaining session to help us fight for a contract that protects our rights as workers!

Directions and Travel Information to the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI):

  • Carpool: the Bargaining Team has organized a carpool for members. If want to attend and need a ride, please fill out the carpool signup form on our website. Carpools will travel between the GEO Office and IFSI. Please let us know a few days in advance if you’d like a ride.
  • Parking: it is free to park in the designated visitor section of the IFSI lot.
  • Bike: there are at least two bike racks available in front of the IFSI main building.
  • Bus: the bus line is 1 South Yellow to Water Survey and the stop is the Water Survey building. Be sure your bus is labeled Water Survey, not Lot E-14 or Savoy Wal-Mart.

Here’s a link to the Facebook event for the eighth bargaining session.

If you can’t make it to the bargaining session, you can still keep up with bargaining updates by attending GEO committee meetings and general membership meetings, following GEO on social media, and reading GEO emails.

You can also find more information about bargaining on our website.

More Ways to be Involved with Bargaining:

  • Talk to your GEO department Steward
  • Attend a Bargaining Team meeting
  • Attend bargaining sessions
  • Talk to your GEO colleagues

If you have questions about bargaining or the BT’s proposal, attending a BT meeting is the best way to address them. To find out about future meeting times, check the GEO events calendar or contact us at barg@uigeo.org.

 

Call for Testimonials

One powerful tool in bargaining is member stories, and we want to hear from you! If you have a story related to our contract, email barg@uigeo.org to share it with the Bargaining Team.

Our pillars of bargaining are protecting tuition waivers, raising wages and eliminating fees, ensuring quality healthcare, and promoting access and equality, which includes creating childcare support, strengthening our nondiscrimination statement, and expanding parental, bereavement, and visa/immigration leave. If you have an experience to share about these (or other!) issues, please consider coming to the bargaining sessions and voicing it. If you do not feel comfortable speaking in the session, that’s OK too. With your permission, someone else can read your written statement without mentioning you as the author. You can indicate to the Bargaining Team how you want your story shared.

 

Call for GEO T-Shirt Slogan Ideas

The Communications Committee invites GEO members to submit their slogan ideas for new GEO t-shirts. We are especially looking for ideas that connect to GEO’s four bargaining pillars. Members are invited to submit their slogan ideas by midnight on Friday, July 21, to commcomm@uigeo.org, for consideration by the Communications Committee.


GEO Has Moved

As of Friday, July 7th, GEO has moved to its new, bigger-and-better office space! We still remain in the McKinley Foundation (809 S 5th Street, Champaign) on the ground floor, but relocated from the sunroom to the Geneva Room. This new office space will provide GEO with both a larger and more efficient space, but also more opportunities to meet and organize on behalf of graduate employees across the campus. Stop by the Geneva Room to see our new organizing space!

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EVENTS:

See a full schedule of GEO meetings and events here, and contact geo@uigeo.org with any questions.

Wear your GEO shirt or pin on Wednesday for “Wear it Wednesday”! Take a photo and post it with the tag #WearItWednesday to share with us on Instagram or Twitter.

 

Healthcare Town Hall

Anxious about healthcare? The GEO’s Health Care Working Group has organized a Town Hall event for graduate students focused on the themes of access, patient care, experiences, inclusion, and improving health care for all graduate student populations and dependents.

Come to our town hall meeting on Wednesday, July 19, 4:00-6:00pm, at the Asian American Cultural Center Lounge (1210 W Nevada St., Urbana, IL 61801). Free food will be provided! To RSVP, please go to the Facebook event for the Healthcare Town Hall.

Also, this is a family-friendly event, so go ahead and bring your children, partners, relatives or anyone else who is (un)covered by your insurance and would like to know more.

 

GEO 101
Or, The Importance of Organizing as a Graduate Student

What is GEO? Why does the TA contract matter for graduate students/employees who primarily work as RAs? What is the current state of negotiations? How does GEO benefit those outside the bargaining unit in other ways? Come to learn the answers to these questions and more! Following the success of our June event in RAL, we are holding a second RA-focused informational discussion on Thursday, July 27, at 1:00pm. Location TBD; keep an eye on the Facebook event here. Food will be provided.

 

Strategic Communications Workshop III

The Communications Committee invites GEO members to attend the next Strategic Communications Workshop to learn about bargaining messaging on Thursday, July 27, 6:00-8:00pm, at the School of Labor and Employment Relations (504 E Armory Ave, Champaign).

 

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COMMITTEE UPDATES:

RA Working Group

RAs have concerns that overlap with, but are also distinct from, those of TAs and GAs. And although RAs are legally excluded from GEO’s bargaining unit, thus not covered by GEO’s contract with the university, they can still be active GEO members and work together to improve conditions across the university. The RA Working Group has formed to research and implement methods of successfully organizing and advocating for RAs. Our first meeting will be Friday, July 28, 12:00-2:00pm. Please contact Zoë MacDowell Kaswan at officer3@uigeo.org for more information or if you are interested in attending.

Solidarity Committee (Sol Comm):

The Solidarity Committee (SolComm) serves to build ties of solidarity between the GEO and other people’s movements and local social justice-oriented projects. It does this through various means such as financial endorsements, statements of support, and collaborations. The SolComm has supported several organizations and movements locally and beyond with work towards economic, racial, gender, disability, prison, and environmental justice. If you have any questions about SolComm or would like to get involved, please contact the Solidarity Chair at solcomm@uigeo.org.

Statement in Solidarity with Bangladeshi Workers in Response to Gazipur Boiler Explosion

GEO stands in solidarity with Bangladeshi garment workers and offers our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the workers killed and injured in the boiler explosion in Gazipur on July 3rd. “We understand that workers’ safety can only be secured if workers have the right to organize and join unions. Therefore, we demand that the right to unionize and form trade unions in all garments factories without any threat or harm be respected and secured.” Read our full solidarity statement on our website.

 

Grievance Committee (GC):

A contract is only as good as our ability to enforce it. The Grievance Committee is responsible for advocating for fair labor practices at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and protecting graduate employees from abuse… and we need your help! Join the Grievance Committee for an opportunity to have a lasting impact on the lives of your peers all across campus. For information on the next meeting, contact grievance@uigeo.org.

DID YOU KNOW???

Our Collective Bargaining Agreement protects members of the Bargaining Unit from being overworked? You can refer to your appointment letter for information on the maximum number of hours you can be asked to work per week. If you are consistently being asked to work more than your appointment letter specifies, remain calm! Complete the work you were asked to perform, but take detailed notes and contact the Grievance Committee for advice about how to raise the issue to your employment supervisor. See Article VII in the GEO’s Collective Bargaining Agreement for more information.

Don’t forget to check out our new online “Submit a Grievance” web form, which is available at http://www.uigeo.org/grievances/grievance-report/. Please pass this link along to your colleagues if you hear of someone that might need to speak with the Grievance Committee.

 

Stewards’ Council (SC):

The Stewards Council is always looking for new members who want to help organize their departments! We are especially looking for grad workers who would like to be Stewards who want to help educate their departments about what’s happening at the bargaining table. Please contact the Stewards’ Council Chair at sc@uigeo.org with any questions.

Stewards are a visible representative of the GEO in their departments, and representatives of their department to the GEO. They are the go-to people for fielding questions about the contract, or other issues that GEO members might be facing, and are essential for communicating problems in their department to the GEO. They also help keep membership in their departments informed and up-to-date about GEO activities. The SC plans a variety of events every year, such as happy hours, general membership meetings, and informational sessions for departments. By being a steward for your department, you can work with GEO to make events tailored to your department’s students’ needs and interests.

Our meetings are open to all GEO members. While each department has its own method for appointing stewards, any GEO member may serve as a steward. Some department have co-stewards. The next meeting is on Tuesday, July 18, 5:00-7:00pm, at the GEO office.

 


Communications Committee (Comm Comm):

We’re looking for new members to join our committee! Our meetings are open to all GEO members and no prior experience with communications is necessary. This summer we are working on developing a new media campaign around bargaining and ordering and designing new t-shirts and other swag for GEO, as well as updating GEO’s Chambana Guide in preparation for the fall orientation for new grad employees. Please contact the Communications Officer at commcomm@uigeo.org if you are interested in joining the Communications Committee. All members are welcome! The next meeting is on Wednesday, July 26, 6:00-8:00pm, at the GEO Office.

 

Coordinating Committee (CC):

The Coordinating Committee (CC) is made up of elected officers from all committees, though any member may attend meetings. The CC makes decisions about large‐scale projects, some financial decisions, and the GEO’s long‐term vision. Our meetings are open to all GEO members. Please contact the Co-Presidents at cc@uigeo.org with any questions about the next meeting. The next CC meeting is on Thursday July 20, 5:00-7:00pm, at the GEO office.

 

Health Care Working Group (HCWG):

The Health Care Working Group works to educate graduate employees on their healthcare rights and benefits, as well as facilitating conversations about healthcare on campus between different stakeholder groups. Meetings are open to all members. For more information about the next meeting, please contact geo@uigeo.org.

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CONNECT WITH GEO!

Twitter: @geo_uiuc

Facebook: @uigeo  @geosolcomm

Instagram: @geo_uiuc

 

Call Your Heather!

Do you have an issue with late appointment letters, inadequate healthcare and childcare, unaddressed microaggressions, workplace safety, lack of resources, or other problems that affect your work on campus? Join GEO as we voice our concerns to Academic Human Resources to let them know they need to work with us at the bargaining table to create systemic fixes for our problems.

WHO? All UIUC graduate employees, both on campus, and elsewhere! This is a great way to get involved and work together with the GEO to let the Administration know our needs.

WHAT? A collective action to show the Administration that the problems graduate employees face are real and difficult. Graduate employees will gather to call or email Heather Horn to inform her about their employment-related problems.

WHY? Heather Horn, the lead negotiator for the Administration’s Bargaining Team, stated in the bargaining room that she doesn’t know there are any problems with graduate employees’ working conditions if she hasn’t heard about them directly. Graduate employees will call or email to inform her, and the Administration, about their employment-related problems. Widespread problems require systemic fixes via a collective bargaining agreement, not individual fixes for those that come forward to Heather.

WHEN? Thursday, July 13, 1:00pm-4:00pm CST. You can also participate remotely by phone or email. Contact us at geo@uigeo.org for info on how to participate from off-campus.

WHERE? GEO’s new office! We’re still in the McKinley Foundation Building (809 S. Fifth St., C.) but now in the Geneva Room. Come warm up our new office with a work action!

ALSO OF NOTE:

    • The GEO’s Grievance Committee will be present to assist members with possible grievances. If you aren’t comfortable sharing your issues with Heather you can still join us and chat with the Grievance Committee.
  • YOU CANNOT BE RETALIATED AGAINST FOR PARTICIPATION IN UNION ACTIVITIES, INCLUDING THIS WORK ACTION OR A GRIEVANCE.

 

CALL OR EMAIL HEATHER HORN:

217-333-0989

hwilson@illinois.edu

IMPORTANT: Haven’t Received Your Fall Appointment Letter Yet? Please Read!

Unless you’re appointed for a Summer 2 session, you are guaranteed by our contract to have gotten your Fall appointment letter by now, as the deadline was June 19th. However, the Administration typically fails to meet their deadline, leaving many graduate employees in the dark about their fall appointment and uncertain about their future employment status.

If you have other current or past workplace issues that you’d like to help us inform Heather about, such as inadequate healthcare and/or childcare, unaddressed microaggressions, workplace safety, or a lack of resources, stop by the event of please contact us at geo@uigeo.org for information on how to help remotely.

BARGAINING: Sixth Session Summary June 20, 2017

 

Today, the GEO Bargaining Team (BT) and the UIUC Administration held their sixth bargaining session. Thank you to all members who attended!

Please read below for more information on what happened today and what comes next.

NEXT BARGAINING SESSION: Tuesday, July 11, 2017, 9:00am-12:00pm, Illinois Fire Service Institute (11 Gerty Drive, Champaign). All members are welcome! You can also find more information about bargaining on our website.

Key takeaways from today’s session:

  1. The Administration gave us their full comprehensive counter-proposal, including economic items. Our increased member presence and participation clearly worked to pressure them–getting a comprehensive proposal from the Administration is a MAJOR development! After three months, we can finally start bargaining our contract with all items on the table. Now the real struggle begins to secure a fair graduate employee contract.
  2. We rejected the Administration’s tuition waiver side letter proposal from June 6, 2017, with a statement that put their proposal in the context of past arbitration decisions. The Admin wants to have the right to change any of the terms and conditions associated with any tuition waiver. We think this is unacceptable because we view tuition waivers as the due compensation for our labor. You can find the statement about tuition waivers that our lead negotiators presented today here.
  3. Two of our members shared their experiences regarding the connection between tuition waivers and access and equality at this university. Hearing their personal stories and presenting these to the Administration was a powerful moment in the negotiation room. These narratives also showed how our bargaining pillars work together and cannot be considered in isolation.
  4. We had great member turnout and productive conversation among membership about what we observed in the negotiation room. Member turnout is our strongest tool to fight for our contract priorities and we encourage all members to attend a session. Thank you to all who attended–please spread the word and bring another member with you next time!

What Comes Next:

Members, please attend the next bargaining session: we need you! The Bargaining Team represents members at the table. We look to you, the members, for input when we go to break out sessions. The more members in the room, the better informed our decisions at the table.

Attending bargaining sessions is the best way to actively engage in the negotiation of your wages, healthcare, and other protections. It is perfectly acceptable to come late or leave early from a bargaining session if you can’t stay the entire time. Just being present demonstrates our unity and strength to the Administration. You can even bring your work if you want. Coffee and food will be provided.

If you can’t make it to the bargaining session, you can still keep up with bargaining updates by attending GEO committee meetings and general membership meetings, following GEO on social media, and reading GEO emails.

Call for Testimonials

One powerful tool in bargaining is member stories, and we want to hear from you! If you have a story related to our contract, email barg@uigeo.org to share it with the Bargaining Team.

Our pillars of bargaining are protecting tuition waivers, raising wages and eliminating fees, ensuring quality healthcare, and promoting access and equality, which includes creating childcare support, strengthening our nondiscrimination statement, and expanding parental, bereavement, and visa/immigration leave. If you have an experience to share about these (or other!) issues, please consider coming to the bargaining sessions and voicing it. If you do not feel comfortable speaking in the session, that is OK too. With your permission, someone else can read your written statement without mentioning you as the author. You can indicate to the Bargaining Team how you want your story shared.

 

More Ways to be Involved with Bargaining:

  • Talk to your GEO department Steward
  • Attend a Bargaining Team meeting
  • Attend bargaining sessions
  • Talk to your GEO colleagues

The next BT meeting is on Wednesday, June 21, 7:00-9:00pm, at the GEO Office. Contact barg@uigeo.org with any questions. All members are welcome!

If you have questions about bargaining or the BT’s proposal, attending a meeting is the best way to address them. You can reach us at barg@uigeo.org. You can also find more info about bargaining on our website.

See the GEO event calendar for future Bargaining Team meetings, bargaining sessions, and other events. Add it to your Google calendar by searching for geo@uigeo.org. Bargaining Team meetings and bargaining sessions are open to all members. Please contact the Bargaining Team (barg@uigeo.org) with any questions.

 

Follow GEO Online:

Website: www.uigeo.org

Twitter: @geo_uiuc

Facebook: @uigeo @geosolcomm

Instagram: @geo_uiuc

 

Text the word “GEO” to 69238 to receive periodic messages concerning crucial bargaining updates and other urgent information. Msg & data rates may apply. Text STOP to 69238 to stop receiving messages. Text HELP to 69238 for more information. Terms & Conditions.

 

5th Bargaining Session Summary June 6, 2017

Today, the GEO Bargaining Team (BT) and the UIUC Administration held their fifth bargaining session. Thank you to all members who attended! We filled the room–making a strong statement to the Administration about our commitment. There was even a baby present!

Please read below for more information on what happened today and what comes next.

NEXT BARGAINING SESSION: Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 9:00am-12:00pm, Illinois Fire Service Institute (11 Gerty Drive, Champaign). All members are welcome!

Key takeaways from today’s session:

  1. GEO Co-President Augustus Wood presented a powerful statement about the importance of tuition waivers to GEO members.
  • At the last session, the Administration told us that they intended to “clarify” the side letter but didn’t state when they would do so or why, so we prepared a statement about why tuition waivers are important to us, the members. We presented the statement (attached) and asked the Administration for a response today.
  • The Administration was initially unwilling to respond to our statement, acknowledging only that it had taken place. When pressed by the lead negotiators, they agreed to caucus and returned with a proposal for a new side letter on tuition waivers.

 

  1. The Administration presented us with a new side letter on tuition waivers that showed their intent to change our tuition waiver protections!
  • For the first time in this bargaining cycle, we received an economic proposal from the Administration. We have been asking to see their economic proposal(s) since the first day of bargaining on March 30th. This is a big development, and it only happened because we demanded it. Now we know how they intend to reduce tuition waivers. Now we know what we’re fighting against.
  • This new side letter includes language which limits tuition waivers at the Administration’s discretion and introduces a NEW “base-rate” for tuition waivers. They did not clarify what this means, despite being asked to do so repeatedly. We will not know for sure until the Administration defines exactly what they mean–something we will continue to push them on.
  • They suggested that current members would not be affected, only incoming students–and only in select programs. This would drive a wedge into our potential membership. They seem to assume that we don’t care about future members. They’re wrong! Furthermore, their proposal contains vague language that may, despite the Administration’s claims, also leave current graduate employees at risk for having their waiver reduced or removed, in certain situations.
  • To see our current contract and side letter, you can visit our website.

 

  1. STILL no comprehensive proposal.

 

  • Why is this important?
  • We can’t bargain until we know what their full economic comprehensive proposal contains. Without seeing their full comprehensive proposal, we don’t know what’s on the table or what the Administration’s priorities are.
  • They are asking us to sign partial agreements on non-economic proposals without showing us their full proposal, and this is unacceptable–would you agree to buy a house without knowing how much it costs?!

 

 

  • GEO’s Response
  • We’ve continued to reject their piecemeal proposals on individual non-economic articles. As a part of these rejections, we’ve explained how these proposals don’t meet our needs and why we can’t fully consider them until we see their full comprehensive proposal.

 

  • We need the Administration to WORK WITH US and show us their full comprehensive proposal, which includes economic components!

 

What Comes Next:

Members, please attend the next bargaining session: we need you!

The Bargaining Team represents members at the table. We look to you, the members, for input when we go to break out sessions. The more members in the room, the better informed our decisions at the table.

Attending bargaining sessions is the best way to actively engage in the negotiation of your wages, healthcare, and other protections. It is perfectly acceptable to come late or leave early from a bargaining session if you can’t stay the entire time. Just being present demonstrates our unity and strength to the Administration. You can even bring your work if you want. Coffee and food will be provided.

The BT and the Administration agreed to meet for our next bargaining session on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, from 9:00am to 12:00pm at the Illinois Fire Service Institute (11 Gerty Drive, Champaign). All members are welcome! Fill out the carpool signup form if you need a ride.

The next BT meeting is on Friday, June 9, 1:00-3:00pm, at the GEO Office. Contact barg@uigeo.org with any questions. All members are welcome!

If you can’t make it to the bargaining session, you can still keep up with bargaining updates by attending GEO committee meetings and general membership meetings, following GEO on social media, and reading GEO emails.

More Ways to be Involved with Bargaining:

  • Talk to your GEO department Steward
  • Attend a Bargaining Team meeting
  • Attend bargaining sessions
  • Talk to your GEO colleagues

If you have questions about bargaining or the BT’s proposal, attending a meeting is the best way to address them. You can reach us at barg@uigeo.org. You can also find more info about bargaining our website.

See the GEO event calendar for future Bargaining Team meetings, bargaining sessions, and other events. Add it to your Google calendar by searching for geo@uigeo.org. Bargaining Team meetings and bargaining sessions are open to all members. Please contact the Bargaining Team (barg@uigeo.org) with any questions.

Call for Testimonials

One powerful tool in bargaining is member stories, and we want to hear from you! If you have a story related to our contract, email barg@uigeo.org to share it with the Bargaining Team.


Our pillars of bargaining are protecting tuition waivers, raising wages and eliminating fees, ensuring quality healthcare, and promoting access and equality, which includes creating childcare support, strengthening our nondiscrimination statement, and expanding parental, bereavement, and visa/immigration leave. If you have an experience to share about these (or other!) issues, please consider coming to the bargaining sessions and voicing it. If you do not feel comfortable speaking in the session, that is OK too. With your permission, someone else can read your written statement without mentioning you as the author. You can indicate to the Bargaining Team how you want your story shared.

Follow GEO Online:

Website: www.uigeo.org

Twitter: @geo_uiuc

Facebook: @uigeo @geosolcomm

Instagram: @geo_uiuc

 

Text the word “GEO” to 69238 to receive periodic messages concerning crucial bargaining updates and other urgent information. Msg & data rates may apply. Text STOP to 69238 to stop receiving messages. Text HELP to 69238 for more information. Terms & Conditions.

 

 

Congratulations to our 2010-2011 Officers!

Please join us in welcoming the Graduate Employees’ Organization’s 2010-2011 Coordinating Committee:

Co-Presidents: Stephanie Seawell (History) and Katie Walkiewicz (English);

Treasurer: Karen Lichtman (Linguistics);

Communications Officer: Natalie Uhl (Anthropology);

Grievance Officer: Christopher Simeone (English);

Officers-at-Large: Leighton Christiansen (Library and Information Science), Christina De Angelo (Theatre), & Michelle Salerno (Spanish, Italian & Portugese).

It’s going to be a great year!

History

The GEO has been organizing since the early 1990s for democracy in the workplace, better education, increased stipends, better benefits, and other changes to make life as a Teaching, Research, or Graduate Assistant better.

Graduate employees have been organizing at the University of Illinois since the early 1970s when a group called the Assistants Union first worked to improve working conditions. In the late 1980s the Graduate Employees’ Organization got together to give voice to graduate assistant concerns over issues such as salaries, workload, and healthcare, as well as a perceived lack of campus parking. An early victory came when the GEO convinced the administration to delay payment of student fees until the first payday. Previously we had to pay by the regular deadline, which was often a financial strain for graduate employees. After initial success, this early GEO became inactive.

In the fall of 1993, a new crop of graduate employees began building an active organization with the goal of matching the achievements of unions at the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin. A steering committee researched working conditions and benefits for grad employees at the U of I and at peer institutions. In the spring of 1994 the GEO successfully rallied grads against the administration’s plan to stop issuing staff ID cards to assistants. With the ID cards assistants were able to retain many benefits such as staff parking, access to the Illini Credit Union, and discounts as state of Illinois employees.

During the 1994-95 academic year, the GEO grew and changed significantly. A lively organizing committee helped increase membership. In the spring of 1995, the GEO conducted a survey of assistants which showed strong support for unionization, as well as confirming the desire for improvements in healthcare and a new grievance procedure. Also in the spring of 1995, after much research and discussion, GEO affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, joining over 70,000 Illinois educators in that organization. During the summer of 1995, along with other graduate employee unions in the American Federation of Teachers, we formed the Alliance of Graduate Employee Locals (AGEL).

In the fall of 1995, GEO members began a drive to gather signatures for a petition for a union election. The “card drive”–so named for the “authorization cards” we asked grads to sign as part of the petition — required the efforts of literally hundreds of GEO rank-and-file activists. Whether “talking union” with their co-workers, volunteering their Wednesday evenings to put out mass mailings, or standing on campus appealing to passing strangers (“Are you a grad assistant?”), member-organizers from every department made success a reality.

Card Drive

GEO organizers sign-up new members at a table set up in the lobby of a university building.

Of course, the administration helped out, too, by announcing plans to radically restructure the tuition waiver program and to end guaranteed full tuition waivers for future graduate employees. The crisis showed the usefulness of organization: the GEO was able to inform grad assistants about the changes, funnel their concerns to the administration, and build a coalition of graduate groups to oppose the changes. We also discovered the limits of our present organization. We got the administration to drop the most outrageous elements of their plan, but without a contract we could do nothing to stop most of the changes. A similar situation occurred with respect to healthcare. The GEO helped to secure improvements in healthcare and dental benefits, but these real changes in the benefits were minimal, and came from our raise pool. With these lessons in mind, graduate assistants signed on to the union effort in increasing numbers.

By April of 1996 3,226 graduate assistants had signed cards in support of the GEO’s call for a union election. The GEO filed these cards as a petition with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) to request a union election. Instead of agreeing to an election, the administration chose to fight us in court arguing that graduate employees are students and therefore not covered by the Labor Act.

While the legal case wound its way slowly through hearings before an administrative law judge and later the full IELRB, graduate employees mobilized to demonstrate their desire for a union. In the spring of 1997, graduate employees chose GEO as their union representative with 64% of the vote. The election was overseen by a local group of ministers and lay workers. The university administration refused to recognize the results of that election, and rebuffed repeated efforts to engage them in dialogue during the fall of 1997.

Toby Higbie at Labor Committee

GEO History Steward Toby Higbie testifies before the Illinois State House of Representatives’ Labor Committee concerning House Bill 1208. With him are the bill’s sponsor Rep. Todd Stroger and IFT Legislative Director Karen Williams.

Then in February of 1998 the GEO received the bad news that two of the three members of the Labor Board ruled that while student status did not constitute an explicit exclusion from the act, the work of graduate employees was so deeply intertwined with their education that their jobs were primarily educational. The dissenting opinion in that case argued that TAs and GAs are employees. The GEO immediately appealed the case to the Illinois Court of Appeals.

In April of 1998 the GEO held its first “Work-In,” a massive event that brought over 400 graduate employees to the Henry Administration Building to teach classes, grade papers, and educate the public about the goals of the GEO. Over the course of the next year we worked on passing legislation affirming graduate employees’ collective bargaining rights and in March of 1999 our bill passed the lower house of the General Assembly with bipartisan support. Due to the lobbying of the university administration the bill was buried in the Senate Rules Committee and never came to a vote.

By that point, the GEO had pursued every established channel to win the right to represent ourselves. We were totally shut out of university decision-making. Repeated efforts to engage the administration in dialogue failed. Our members had even been denied the chance to sit on university committees dealing with employment issues and benefits.

But the tide was already turning in our direction. Two major legal decisions in the National Labor Relations Board cleared the way for student employees in the private sector to unionize. These cases didn?t necessarily set precedent for Illinois, but they didn?t hurt either. Meanwhile, the demise of House Bill 1208 sparked a new round of activism by graduate employees and more statements of support from the community.

<
/table>In early March a student referendum (sponsored by the Illinois Student Government) in support of graduate employees’ right to union representation passed by a 77% margin. At the end of March, 55 graduate employees and supporters (including clergy, union members, and student government leaders) held a 20-hour sit-in at the Board of Trustees office to draw public attention to the administration’s policy of non-recognition. Outside of the sit-in 200 supporters held rally in the afternoon, while about 50 braved the cold night air to stand in support of the action. Ten days later we held our largest-ever membership meeting.On June 30, 2000 the Illinois Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, overturned the IELRB’s decision to deny graduate employees the right to choose union recognition. Calling the Labor Board’s decision “clearly erroneous” and based on an “overly simplistic interpretation” of Illinois educational labor law, the Court sent the case back to the Board for reconsideration. They must now allow “those individuals whose assistantships are not significantly connected to their status as students … the same statutory right to organize as other educational employees.” This decision opens the door for what graduate employees have wanted for so long — to exercise their democratic right to choose the GEO as their representative.This decision was reaffirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court on October 4, 2000 when they rejected the university administration’s appeal. We are now gearing up for an election where graduate employees will have the chance to vote for the GEO and begin negotiations with the administration for a contract.The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) approved preliminary guidelines for who will be allowed to vote in an upcoming union election for graduate employees at the University of Illinois. Their decision excluded virtually all of the Teaching, Research, and Graduate Assistants on the Urbana-Champaign campus.The IELRB’s decision denied the right to vote in a union election to all graduate students employed as teachers or researchers, as well as those assistants whose employment duties overlap with their academic “discipline”–a category suggested by the University of Illinois administration. Of the U of I’s approximately 5,200 grad employees, some 95% would be denied the ability to vote in a union election.In response to the IELRB decision, the GEO membership voted to hold a two-day work stoppage in the Fall of 2001. On November 28th and 29th, over 350 graduate employees in Gregory Hall, Lincoln Hall, English Building, Davenport Hall, and the Foreign Languages Building walked off the job. 70% of TAs in the target buildings took part, and 8-10,000 students were affected each day. Hundreds of GEO members and supporters picketed, chanted, and sang in the cold and rain on the Quad and around main administration buildings. The GEO was supported by a resolution in the Illinois House of Representatives, calling on the Administration to bargain with graduate employees. The GEO also had support from numerous groups throughout the community as well as the GEO at the University of Illinois’ Chicago campus, who occupied the UIC Chancellor’s office to show solidarity with our actions in Champaign-Urbana.Despite the success of the work stoppage, the position of the UI Administration remained unchanged. Therefore, at the first membership meeting of 2002, GEO members authorized further actions, including work stoppages and the possibility of more other disruptive actions for later in the semester.The GEO had already scheduled a three-day strike for the second week of April when on March 13, 2002 nearly 50 members and supporters of the GEO entered and occupied the Swanlund Administration Building. Beginning at 7:45 A.M. GEO members stood in all the entrances to prevent any University employees from entering the building. The building, which normally holds 100+ employees, was completely closed down by this action.The action was timed to coincide with the arrival of the Board of Trustees to the Urbana-Champaign campus for a two-day meeting. GEO members were determined to stay until the administration agreed to begin negotiations with them over an out-of-court settlement to the now seven-year battle or until they were arrested. Bowing to the pressure of the sit-in and the upcoming walkout, University of Illinois officials reversed their long-standing policy of refusing to negotiate with the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO). Provost Herman, accompanied by Deputy University Legal Counsel Steve Veazie, conceded to a series of ongoing meetings with GEO representatives to determine which graduate employees would be eligible to vote in a union election and covered by a union contract. (Click here for the full text of the March 13 agreement.)As a result of the March 13th agreement, the University agreed to a series of negotiations to determine the scope of the bargaining unit. The GEO bargaining team advocated that all graduate employees (RAs, TAs, and GAs) be included in bargaining unit. However, the University argued that most grad employees should be excluded from collective bargaining.
Weary of the University of Illinois? slow movement, graduate employees continued organizing toward a 3 day strike in mid-April. During the weeks up to the planned strike, the GEO notified the University that a report on negotiations would be given to the membership before graduate employees voted to continue with the plan to strike. After weeks of intense and lengthy negotiations, the University finally presented a revised proposal concerning bargaining unit membership. The day before the strike, the University agreed that almost all TAs and GAs be included in the bargaining unit. However, the University still did not agree that RAs have a right to collectively bargain.
At the membership meeting the day before the strike, GEO members greeted the University?s proposal with excitement. Many were disappointed by the University?s position concerning RAs, but in general members agreed that this proposal was an immense victory. After nearly seven weeks of negotiations, the GEO and the University came to an agreement on the composition of the bargaining unit.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2002, the GEO prepared for a union election. As part of the election drive, community organizations, churches, local labor unions, legislators and community leaders signed on to a letter to the University of Illinois asking that the University to remain neutral on the issue of whether employees should be represented collectively. The letter argued that union representation is a personal decision for employees and the letter specifically asked that the University of Illinois sign a pledge not to intimidate, harass or influence the union election.
After the University refused to sign the pledge, the GEO organized a “free and fair election rally” on the steps of the Swanlund Administration Building to publicly encourage the University to sign the pledge. The University continued its silence.
Having defined a large bargaining unit, the GEO urged the labor board to schedule the union election for Spring 2003. The GEO supported a spring election for two reasons: 1. A spring election would give TAs an adequate time to evaluate union representation and 2. TAs excluded from the bargaining unit in their 1st semester would be eligible to vote. This would have allowed Chemistry, Biological Sciences, German, and Psychology graduate employees to vote in the union election. The University disagreed and the labor board scheduled the election for the week before fall finals: December 3-4, 2002.
With only a month?s notice of the election date, the GEO initiated an intense organizing drive. Hundreds of graduate employees and labor volunteers talked with the over 2,500 TAs and GAs eligible to vote in the election. Despite the poor timing of the election, on December 3-4, 2002 over half of the eligible employees participated in the election. Graduate employees overwhelmingly voted for GEO to represent them at the bargaining table by a 3 to 1 margin (1188 to 347).As a newly officially recognized union, the GEO elected an official bargaining team and voted on a bargaining platform in February, 2003. GEO members elected Rosemary Braun (RA in Physics) as chief negotiator and consciously elected RAs to demonstrate that the GEO advocates for all graduate employees regardless of employment status.Rather than easing into initial negotiations, the GEO again had to fight for an inclusive and transparent process. The University fought for closed-door negotiation meetings and argued that RAs should not be allowed at the negotiating table. The GEO did not back down from its position that all employees have a right to attend and participate in meetings and the University finally conceded to open and inclusive meetings.As negotiations proceeded throughout the spring and the fall, the GEO expanded its membership and developed a stronger organizing infrastructure. Physics and Computer Science tripled their membership and participation while historically strong departments developed stronger communication networks.
Over the summer in 2003, GEO negotiated a 3% raise for Fall 2003-2004, breaking a two-year wage freeze. Additionally, the University agreed to provide a dental and vision plan for graduate employees. These were major victories that set a strong precedent for future negotiations.Over 2003-2004, the GEO and the University continued negotiations that set the groundwork for the GEO?s first contract . In August 2004, GEO members ratified the first contract by a 98% margin (610 YES 10 NO). The contract guaranteed 3% wage increases per year, elimination of the McKinley clinic fee, and a phased reduction of medical insurance premiums. In addition, the GEO successfully negotiated a series of employee protections, including a grievance procedure with 3rd-party binding arbitration, a non-discrimination clause, and Fair Share, which allows the union to more effectively bargain with the university and enforce the contract.
Over the course of 2004-2006, the GEO focused on streamlining the grievance process and advocating for better healthcare for grads and their dependents. As the first contract expired in August 2006, grads returned to the bargaining table hoping to focus on healthcare. Negotiations went slowly, but grads with the help of our fellow workers on campus put pressure on the University and by Spring 2007 the GEO ratified an improved contract for 2006-2008 with back-pay and a greater subsidy of graduate healthcare and wages.union_united_small.jpgIn 2007-2008 the GEO focused on building membership and developing stronger relationships with community organizations and campus labor groups. In Fall 2007 we supported campus building and food service workers union SEIU in their negotiation for pay equity and greater worker protections. In Spring 2008 we hosted the Alliance of Graduate Employee Locals (AGEL) conference. Representatives from GEO-University of Michigan, TAA-University of Wisconsin, GTFF- University of Oregon, GAU-University of Florida and other graduate employee unions joined us to discuss national organizing strategies, how to build local coalitions, and developing membership.
Approaching Fall 2008 the GEO is preparing for the next contract cycle. The current contract expires in August 2009, but we hope to begin negotiations in the spring. Ultimately winning a strong third contract will require the support of all graduate employees. Volunteers are needed to visit grads in their offices, research healthcare issues, work with other graduate employee unions on international student visa reform and much more.
If you have questions about the GEO or want to know how you can get involved, please contact the GEO office at 344-8283 or at geo(AT)uigeo.org.
Stay Tuned!!!

Sit-in Rally 2000


GEO members and supporters rally outside the Henry Administration Building following the Spring 2000 sit-in.

Work stoppage in fall 2001

Led by GEO Co-President Uma Pimplaskar, members of the GEO picket in front of Lincoln Hall during the Fall 2001 2-day walk out.

Sit-in at Swanlund in Spring 2002

Provost Richard Herman (holding paper) and University Legal Counsel Steve Veazie (white shirt on right) present a proposal to GEO members occupying the Swanlund Administration Building during the sit-in of March 13, 2002. The administration agreed to enter into talks to reach an out-of-court settlement to the ongoing legal battle over collective bargaining rights for graduate employees.

GEO Negotiating Team

Our negotiators and observers at the April 1, 2003 session

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Members of the GEO picket outside a bargaining session Fall 2003

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Counting Ratification Ballots

GEO budget

Explanation of the GEO Budget

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Why do we pay the IFT, AFT, and AFL-CIO?
The GEO is part of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the AFL-CIO. The money we pay to these organizations allows the GEO to utilize resources that are shared by all affiliated local unions. Examples of how our affiliates have helped include:

  • Bargaining support: We have an IFT negotiations expert at every bargaining session with the UI administration. S/he helps train our bargaining team and provides valuable insight during the process.
  • National Influence: Through the AFT, graduate unions are working with a coalition of other organizations to defend academic freedom and to promote shared governance on campuses across the country.
  • Legal: The GEO has repeatedly used the IFT legal counsel to secure collective bargaining rights. Furthermore, IFT has filed unfair labor practices with the Labor Board on GEO’s behalf.
  • Legal / Contract Enforcement: GEO has a legal obligation to represent all employees in grievances regardless of their membership status. All employees in the bargaining unit can file grievances, some of which may be heard in third party arbitration. Arbitration is an expensive process but it is a step we need to be prepared to take when necessary. As a member of the IFT Local Legal Trust, our arbitration costs are fully funded.
  • Lobbying: The IFT helped to pass a bill through the state legislature to ensure collective bargaining rights for grad employees at public institutions in Illinois. The state AFL-CIO helped change state law to allow the spouse or dependent of international students/employees to obtain drivers licenses. This directly affects a number of GEO members.
  • Recognition fight: The IFT supported the GEO through its decade-long struggle to unionize this campus. They provided us with vital financial, legal, and political resources. The IFT paid all legal fees when the GEO took its recognition suit to the Illinois State Supreme Court! The local AFL-CIO helped organize religious leaders in the community to pressure the UI to allow grad employees to choose union representation.
  • Education: The AFT finances 2 conferences per year where grad unionists can come together and share bargaining and organizing resources.

Local Budget
There are many aspects to a thriving union. It is critical that we have the following:

  • A qualified permanent staff that can help coordinate membership drives, keep in touch with stewards, help employees with grievances, and generally coordinate GEO activists.
  • Contingency Fund: The GEO sets aside funds that may be required to handle unforeseen circumstances. A dispute with the University that led to a strike might bankrupt the GEO unless we keep money ready to meet the challenge.
  • Organizing: A successful union must have a strong and active membership. The GEO is well known for its fun events, but these events are not just about having fun. They serve as important avenues for increasing our membership and getting out our message.
  • Office: These funds provide for the day-to-day operations of the GEO. The GEO pays rent for offices in the University YMCA. In addition, there are the regular expenses of maintaining an office: phone lines, copy toner, Internet service, etc.
  • Contract Bargaining: Clearly, bargaining is a central part of this year?s activities. Training and consulting specific to bargaining as well as materials needed for contract ratification will be covered with these funds.
  • Training: Maintaining a dynamic and effective union requires leadership training as well as instruction on the specific tasks such as grievance handling, financial management and coalition-building.

mission

The GEO works to find common ground among all graduate employees, regardless of race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, citizenship status, department, job category, or membership in the union. Membership in the GEO is, and will remain, voluntary.
The GEO strives to be inclusive and open to all graduate employees, operate along democratic principles, act always in the best interests of graduate employees, and act responsibly toward the entire university community.
What We Work for as a Union
By bargaining with the university administration in good faith, toward mutually agreeable improvements to employment policies and benefits for graduate employees, we hope to achieve the following:

  • Grievance Procedure: GEO seeks a written and widely publicized procedure for resolution of employment problems. The procedure should be multi-step, protect employees from retaliation, give employees the option of union representation, and include the right to appeal to a neutral arbitrator to make binding decisions.
  • Workload: the GEO and the university administration should cooperate in addressing the problem of unreasonable workloads in certain departments and move toward greater consistency of workloads across departments. Unpaid job duties should be phased out. However, the union will not seek to limit the right of graduate employees to choose for themselves the time and manner of their work, only to rectify problems of overwork identified by graduate employees.
  • Health Care: The University should waive the student health insurance plan and McKinley fees for graduate employees. The GEO and the University should work together to improve health care so that it more closely serves the needs of the graduate employee population, and includes such things as a choice of plans and affordable plans for spouses, dependents and domestic partners.
  • International Employees: The GEO will work for policies that address the specific employment concerns of international graduate employees. The union and the university administration should work together to find creative responses to rules that limit international students to 50% appointments and therefore makes pay increases difficult or limit the types of appointments non-citizens can take.
  • Stipends: The University should continue improving the stipends of all graduate employees both by increasing the minimum stipend and providing regular cost of living raises. No employee or category of employees should receive a pay cut or freeze in order to fund pay increases for others. The union will not seek pay caps or limits on departments’ ability to offer higher salaries.
  • A Good Work Environment for All: Recognizing that a work environment free from hostility and discrimination is a necessary prerequisite for improving the quality of education and research at the UI, the GEO will work to strengthen and enforce university policies against discrimination and sexual harassment.
  • Tuition Waivers: The University should restore full tuition waivers for all graduate employees regardless of program status. Employees with less than 25% FTE appointments should receive partial waivers. Graduate hourly employees whose work exceeds 10 hours a week on average should receive a full waiver.
  • Paid Training: Graduate employees new to an assistantship should receive paid job training. If a graduate employee’s job description includes work in hazardous settings (which include, e.g., exposure to chemical, radiation, or biological hazards), the employee should be paid to attend formal safety training programs.
  • Family Issues: The GEO is committed to making affordable child care a goal of the University and supports University subsidized child care for all employees. The GEO and the University administration should work together to establish a feasible child care plan for graduate employees with children.
  • Workplace Safety: The University will observe all applicable laws and regulations regarding workplace safety. No employee should be forced to work under conditions that violate safety laws. GEO representatives should serve on all University and Departmental committees on workplace safety.