GEO Work Stoppage Overwhelming Success

70% of T.A.s Take Part; 8,000 – 10,000 Student Affected Each Day

November 29, 2001

The first-ever GEO work stoppage is in full swing today despite the wretched
weather. Pickets have encircled the targeted buildings. "The Quad
is almost empty today,” said undergraduate Clay Campbell, Vice-Chair
of the Graduate Affairs Committee of Illinois Student Government. “Very
few students are going to classes." At 1:00 a contingent of 75 picketers
made their way into (for the second time in two days) Swanlund Administration
Building, where they sang a GEO Christmas Carol to Chancellor Nancy Cantor,
who was on hand to hear the singing, but was disinclined to participate
in the event.

Approximately 350 of the 500 TAs in the 5 target buildings ceased work
during the two-day stoppage, a 70% level of participation. "This
is a great turnout," said GEO Co-President Uma Pimplaskar. "For
our very first work stoppage, a 70% level of participation is remarkable,
and it shows, too. The Quad has been empty all day." TAs are responsible
for anywhere from 20 to 90 students; some 8-10,000 students were affected
each day by the 350 TAs walking out. In addition, dozens of faculty members
cancelled their classes, or moved them to alternate locations to avoid
crossing picket lines. "Faculty members know what we’re doing is
right," said GEO Communications Officer Dave Kamper. "They know
a union won’t raise walls between students and faculty; it will tear them
down." Despite Administration claims that the work stoppage’s effect
was minimal, the action has been a tremendous success. "If they don’t
think we have a lot of support, we’re happy to have it tested any time
in an election," said GEO Treasurer Jennifer Shaffer.

The work stoppage will conclude with a rally tonight at 5:00 at the University
Alma Mater statue. While classes will resume normally on Friday, the GEO
warns that further work stoppages will occur if the Administration doesn’t
recognize graduate employees’. "This isn’t about money; it’s about
justice," said GEO Co-President Kate Bullard. "The Administration
may think a union isn’t in our best interests, it’s not their decision
to make. As workers, it should be our right to choose union representation."

Hundreds Walk Out on First Day of GEO Work Stoppage; Grad Employees at UI-Chicago Sit-In in Protest

The first day of a two-day work stoppage by graduate employees at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was a strong success, as hundreds
of graduate employees cancelled classes and picketed the Quad in an effort
to win democracy and justice. Despite the inclement weather, the GEO kept
a strong presence on the Quad all day. GEO members were joined by faculty
members, undergraduates, University staff, clergy, union members, and
members of the Champaign-Urbana community. Lines of picketers encircled
the targeted buildings, and at the end of the day marched into both the
Henry and Swanlund Administration Buildings, even into the office of Chancellor
Nancy Cantor, who did not take the opportunity to meet the GEO. Between
50 and 100 pickets were on the line at all times during the day.

"The University works because we do, but not today," said GEO
Co-President Uma Pimplaskar. Participation was high in the five Quad buildings
targeted by the GEO. Approximately 10,000 students were affected, both
by graduate employees canceling classes, and by faculty members honoring
GEO picket lines and not teaching their classes. At a 5:00 rally, 100
GEO members and supporters listened in the rain to Prof. Craig Koslofsky
(History), Pastor Steve Shoemaker, Ray Mackey of the American Federation
of Teachers, Jennifer Rudolph, a grad in the Department of Spanish, Italian
and Portuguese, and Kate Bullard, GEO Co-President.

The GEO at UIUC was supported by its companion organization, the GEO
at the University of Illinois-Chicago. More than 20 graduate employees
occupied the office of the Chancellor of UIC from 9:00 to 1:00, demanding
to meet with the Chancellor. The UIC Administration refused to talk to
them. Members of GEO-UIC will be traveling to Champaign-Urbana tomorrow
to join our picket lines and share stories of the Sit-In.

Despite sincere efforts by the GEO, including a 48-hour bargaining table
set up outside Swanlund Administration Building from Monday through Wednesday
morning, the UI Administration has refused to meet with graduate employees
to bargain in good faith over our work.

The GEO will continue its work stoppage tomorrow. Picketing will begin
at 8:00; the GEO strike headquarters will still be on the Quad. A rally
will conclude the work stoppage at 5:00 at the Alma Mater statue at the
corner of Wright and Green. Classes will resume as usual on Friday.

Continue reading “Hundreds Walk Out on First Day of GEO Work Stoppage; Grad Employees at UI-Chicago Sit-In in Protest”


(passed November 27, 2001)
WHEREAS, The University of Illinois is a public institution, is accountable to the citizens of the State of Illinois, and has a responsibility to maintain stability and a high level of quality at our prized State institution; and
WHEREAS, The more than 5,000 graduate employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are indispensable members of the University as they teach nearly half of all introductory level courses, run laboratories and libraries, perform essential research that has established and maintained the University’s excellent reputation, and perform many other services vital to the University and the State; and
WHEREAS, Graduate students employed by the University as teaching assistants, research assistants, and graduate assistants formed the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) to provide a voice for graduate employees in employment policies through union representation and collective bargaining; and
WHEREAS, Graduate employees at the University have demonstrated overwhelming support for union representation, with 3,226 graduate employees signing petitions in 1996 requesting the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to conduct a union election and 64% of those voting in a representation election conducted in 1997 by local religious leaders voting for the GEO as their bargaining representative; and
WHEREAS, The University administration refuses to recognize the results of this election, refuses to voluntarily recognize the GEO, and has spent hundreds of thousands of public tax dollars fighting a legally binding election to allow graduate students to decide whether they want union representation; and
WHEREAS, The Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court both affirmed the right of graduate employees to choose union representation; and
WHEREAS, Five years after filing a petition with the labor board seeking the right to vote on whether they want union representation, graduate employees still have not had an election and the University administration continues to engage in costly legal maneuvers designed to deny most graduate employees this fundamental right; and
WHEREAS, The GEO has exhausted all legal and diplomatic channels to improve their working conditions and secure union recognition, and, as a result, graduate employees have voted to withhold their labor from the University; and
WHEREAS, A work stoppage will disrupt the normal operations of the University and will have a negative impact on undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and the University as a whole; and
WHEREAS, Respecting the freedom to form a union is essential to establishing a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship between the administration of the University and its graduate employees; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE NINETY-SECOND GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, that we urge the University of Illinois administration and the Board of Trustees to respect the right of graduate employees to organize and bargain collectively; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we urge the University administration and the Board of Trustees to remain neutral and comply with the decision of their graduate employees regarding union representation and to refrain from engaging in an activity, written or verbal, designed to interfere with the free choice to join a union; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call upon the Board of Trustees and the Graduate Employees’ Organization to meet immediately and reach agreement on the terms of collective bargaining, including, but not limited to, the parameters of a collective bargaining unit and the scope of issues to be dealt with; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we urge the University administration, the Board of Trustees, and the Graduate Employees’ Organization to bargain in good faith and in the best interests of graduate employees and the university as a whole; and be it further
RESOLVED, That suitable copies of this resolution be delivered to the University of Illinois President, Chancellor, and Board of Trustees and the Graduate Employees’ Organization.

Illinois House of Representatives Passes Resolution Urging UI Administration to Bargain With GEO and Avert Work Stoppage

The Illinois House of Representatives today passed a resolution
endorsing the GEO’s fight for union recognition and calling on the University
Administration to bargain in good faith with the GEO. The resolution comes
a day before the beginning of the GEO’s two-day work stoppage. The resolution
passed without a roll call vote.

"The GEO has exhausted all legal and diplomatic channels to improve
their working conditions and secure union recognition," the resolution
reads. "[T]he freedom to form a union is essential to establishing
a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship between the Administration
of the University and its graduate employees."

The resolution, sponsored by 25 members of the House of Representatives,
recognizes that the work stoppage will "disrupt the normal operations
of the University", and urges the UI Administration to do the right
thing and "respect the right of graduate employees to organize and
bargain collectively."

This is not the first time the Illinois General Assembly has supported
the GEO in its struggle to win democracy. The House of Representatives,
in 1999, passed a bill that would have clarified graduate employee rights
and allowed for a binding union election. The bill, HB 1208, was never
voted on in the Senate.

[To read the full text of House Resolution 0522, click

Champaign County Living Wage Association Issues Statement In Support of GEO

November 21, 2001
The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), which is a member of the Living Wage Association of Champaign County, is planning a work stoppage later in the semester. The EGO received the support of a super-majority in its card drive among the U of I’s graduate employees and over 60% of their votes in an election. It received 77% of the votes in a poll of both undergraduate and graduate students. The elected leaders of the undergraduate students’ association have declared their support of the GEO’s struggle to achieve recognition from the administration. The Union of Professional Employees , an organization of faculty and academic professionals, has called upon the administration to recognize the GEO. Because of the administration’s resistance to the GEO, a bill to specifically include graduate employees in the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act was passed by the Illinois House in Springfield but died with the spring adjournment in the Senate. Blocked by the administration’s refusal to negotiate, the GEO has tried a number of tactics to gain recognition, including numerous demonstrations and work-ins on the Quad. Despite all of GEO’s internal and external support within the university community, the administration of the University of Illinois continues to stonewall and refuse to recognize the GEO as a legitimate bargaining agent. The administration has thus left the GEO with no other option than a work stoppage. The Living Wage Association is proud to have the GEO as one of its members and to support its action in this regrettable circumstance.

Follow-Up Letter to Chancellor Nancy Cantor

[This letter was delivered to the Chancellor after a disappointing meeting with her on October 31, 2001, at which she refused to talk about any of the issues contained in the request to meet with her, including ” the future of undergraduate education, the vital role of graduate assistants in the work of the University, and the issue of collective bargaining for TAs, RAs, and GAs.”]
November 1, 2001
Dr. Nancy Cantor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Swanlund Administration Building
Dear Chancellor Cantor:
We are writing in regard to our meeting with you on October 31, 2001. While we want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule, we also want to clarify that we do not feel we set up a meeting with you on false pretenses.
Our letter to you, a copy of which is attached, clearly states that we were interested in discussing undergraduate education, graduate employees role at the University, and the potential of collective bargaining. We had never intended to discuss graduate education or issues, as you suggested.
This misunderstanding aside, we are very disappointed that you feel you are unable to discuss collective bargaining simply because legal processes are ongoing. Our position is that our right to collective bargaining is an issue of democracy, and that democracy is not simply a question of legal processes, but also a question of principle, activism, and dialogue, all things we know you are concerned with.
The legal action currently in progress has been initiated by the University to assert that teaching assistants, research assistants, and graduate assistants are not employees. If the University would simply acknowledge us as employees, then there would be nothing to litigate over.
It seems clear to us that TAs, RAs, and GAs are workers on this campus, because they receive pay, perform vital services, and benefit the University. If teaching classes, running labs, libraries, counseling and advising centers is not considered work at the University, then we are wondering what the work of the University is.
Once this issue is settled, we would be glad to meet and discuss graduate education and other issues. Should your position change we would still welcome any dialogue with you. Thank you again for meeting with us.
Uma Pimplaskar
Kate Bullard
Cc: Richard Wheeler

History Department Faculty Pass Unanimous Resolution in Support of GEO


(passed unanimously by the Faculty of the Department of History, UIUC,
April 5, 2000)

Whereas, graduate employees at the University of Illinois are BOTH our
students and valued co-workers who shoulder a substantial portion of the
university’s teaching, research, and administrative work,


whereas, many graduate employees are over-worked and under-paid and all
are without independent representation of their own choosing,


whereas, graduate employees have demonstrated overwhelming support for
the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), most notably in the 1996 authorization
drive when 3226 of them signed cards supporting GEO’s call for a collective
bargaining election and in the 1997 collective bargaining election monitored
by a panel of local religious leaders when 64% of those voting chose GEO
to represent them,


whereas, undergraduate students have often shown their support for the
GEO, most recently in the Student Government sponsored poll where 77%
of those voting expressed support for graduate employees’ right to a collective
bargaining election,


whereas, GEO has made strenuous efforts to discuss the problems of graduate
employees and has exhausted every legal means available to engage the
university in such cooperative discussion,


whereas, the University of Illinois administration has consistently refused
to even speak to representatives of the GEO and has instead blocked every
legal effort by the organization to secure the basic right to collective
bargaining for the university’s graduate employees,


whereas, a recent National Labor Relations Board ruling recognizes the
rights of graduate employees at private universities to organize and bargain


whereas, the GEO has now been forced into a position where the only remaining
options in the form of civil disobedience and strike action threaten to
disrupt the normal work of the university, work we all cherish and support,

Be it therefore resolved:

that we, the faculty of the Department of History at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, do hereby support the rights of graduate
employees to organize and bargain collectively and do hereby call upon
the university administration to recognize the GEO and to sit down and
bargain with that organization in good faith and in the interests of graduate
employees and other interested parties. Furthermore, we urge our colleagues
in other departments and units across the campus to join us in our support
of these basic rights and in an effort to avoid the disruption that is
likely to result from the current administration policy with regard to
the just concerns of graduate employees.

UI Administration Concedes GEO Demand; Will Pay TAs for Job Training

July 10, 2001
The University of Illinois administration has recently made plans to pay graduate employees for training as teaching assistants. Paid training has long been a key demand of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO). Now, a letter sent by the Graduate College to the heads of academic departments states, “all of your teaching assistants will be compensated for their participation in required training.”
“The GEO has insisted on the importance of paid training for all graduate employees for many years,”said GEO Co-President Uma Pimplaskar. “We know that TAs teach one-third of all credits taught at the university, and improving the status of education here has always been a major goal for us. After all, TA working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”
While plans made by the administration are a first step, the GEO hopes to talk with university officials to improve the benefits and training. The Administration currently intends to pay only TAs who receive training before August 21st, ruling out the possibility of mid-year training programs and training for TAs who will begin new assignments during spring semester. Also, the current plan says nothing about what kind of training TAs will receive or how this training will help in the classroom.
“The Administration ought to consult its employees and work with us to create innovative training programs that will meet teachers’ needs,” said GEO Co-President Kate Bullard. “Until we achieve our democratic right to a voice in our working conditions, improvements in training and education can only be minimal.”
In addition, a teaching assistant would receive only $41.11 for a full day’s training, making the proposed rate of pay less than minimum wage. “That just highlights the Administration’s unwillingness to address the real issue,” said GEO Treasurer Jennifer Shaffer. “Our goal of paid training isn’t about pocket money for TAs. It’s about pushing the Administration to value education enough to work with and invest in teachers. The only way we’ll ever get that is through collective bargaining.”
For almost ten years, the GEO has been asking the administration to meet to discuss improvements in job training and other issues of importance to graduate employees. University officials continue to refuse recognition of the GEO, which represents the approximately 5,000 teaching, research, and graduate assistants at the University of Illinois.

Labor Board, UI Administration Seek to Disenfranchise 95% of Graduate Employees

[To compare the UI administration’s position to that
of the GEO, see this summary.]

Today 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 denies 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.

“This decision was based entirely on the University administration’s
last minute brief to the Board, suggesting even more exclusions,” said
GEO Co-President Kate Bullard. “Throughout this process, the Administration
has actively worked to thwart the democratic process.”

“Our membership will decide what we do next,” said Rob Henn, GEO Coordinating
Committee Member who attended today’s meeting. “But it’s clear that this
decision will be unacceptable to our members, and it’s also clear that
the IELRB and UI administration have left us with few options for gaining
a voice for graduate employees on this campus.”

This decision goes against overwhelming national precedent, according
to which graduate teachers and researchers have been granted collective
bargaining rights at nearly 30 public university campuses and recently
at NYU–the first private university to have a recognized graduate employee

Background: In 1996, 3,226 graduate
employees signed authorization cards
calling for a union election.
In 1997 the GEO won a community
sponsored election by a 2:1 margin
. In 1999 the
Illinois House passed HB1208 that recognized graduate employees
, but
the bill never came to the Senate floor because of UI lobbying. In the
spring of 1999, 3,665 undergraduates and graduates affirmed an Illinois
Student Government referendum
in favor of grad employees right to
a union election. In 2000, the Illinois
Supreme Court
affirmed that graduate employees have the right to a
legally binding union election.

GEO Pushes for Inclusion of Graduate Employees in Bargaining Unit While University Administration Seeks to Deny Rights to Nearly All

Following the GEO’s legal victories in the Illinois Appellate
Court (June 30, 2000)
and the Illinois Supreme Court (October
4, 2000
), the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) ordered
both the University of Illinois administration and the Graduate Employees’
Organization to “present written argument as to the proper implementation
of the Appellate Court’s decision, including argument concerning which
graduate students are statutory employees and which are not under the
significant connection test.” This order was issued on November 14, 2000
with the arguments to be submitted by December 8, 2000.

Unsurprisingly, the Board of Trustees (BOT) suggested an
extremist interpretation that would exclude nearly all graduate employees
from union representation under the rationale that assistantships allow
one to “think more broadly, to develop critical thinking and to develop
presentation skills,” or to “become familiar with the faculty and scholarly
culture.” They even went so far as to recommend that those performing
clerical-type work should simply be added to the existing AFSCME clerical
employee bargaining unit.

This proposal offers up an overly broad and exclusionary
standard that dismisses and belittles the vital work performed by all
classifications of graduate employees in furthering the University of
Illinois’ mission of teaching and research. As GEO Recording Secretary
Kerry Wynn said, “Just because we’re learning as we go doesn’t mean it’s
not a job."

In contrast to the BOT proposal that would in effect deny
all graduate employees the right to vote on union representation, the
GEO proposal would include the majority of graduate employees. We believe
that it is the largest possible unit consistent with the Appellate
Court ruling
. Further, the proposed unit is in keeping with the precedent
set by the National Labor Relations Board in their ruling
on graduate employees at New York University
and with the majority
of other State Boards where graduate employees are formally recognized.

After discussion with GEO departmental stewards, representatives
of the Illinois Federation of Teachers
and GEO’s legal counsel, the Coordinating Committee and Steward Council
Chair unanimously decided to file a brief arguing for the following unit:

Included: All teaching assistants, research assistants,
and graduate assistants (referred to collectively as graduate assistants)
employed by the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

Excluded: All graduate assistants who are receiving compensation
for work on their approved theses or dissertation or are fulfilling
a degree requirement, all other employees, and guards and supervisors
as defined by the [Illinois Educational Labor Relations] Act.

The GEO’s mission is to establish a powerful, independent
voice for all graduate employees on campus. The GEO will continue to work
for this goal, no matter what bargaining unit the Labor Board decides
upon. To that end, we look forward to continuing organizing for an election
occurring in the near future. Winning such an election is the strongest
way of insuring that we will be able to fulfill the GEO’s goals.