At approximately 7:30 this morning, nearly 50 members and supporters
of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) entered and occupied the
Swanlund Administration Building (corner of Sixth St. and John St., Champaign).
GEO members are standing in all the entrances to prevent any University
employees from entering the building. The building, which normally holds
100+ employees, is completely closed down by this action.
"We’re here to demand that the Board of Trustees and University
Administration negotiate an out-of-court settlement that respects the
express wishes of graduate employees for union representation," said
GEO Co-President Uma Pimplaskar. "We insist that this agreement be
made as a public promise and written down in a signed, official letter."
Today’s action is timed to coincide with the arrival of the Board of
Trustees to the Urbana-Champaign campus for a two-day meeting. "The
Administration always has excuses for not meeting us," said GEO Communications
Officer Dave Kamper, "But today, their choice is simple: they can
negotiate with us, or they can arrest us."
The GEO has already scheduled a three-day
strike for the second week of April, which can only be averted by
a settlement today. GEO members have vowed to keep up the pressure on
the UI Administration until graduate employees are granted union rights.
Background: The GEO has been fighting for the rights of graduate employees
since 1994. 3,226 teaching, research and graduate assistants signed
cards calling for a union election in 1996, and 64% of voters chose
GEO in a 1997 election. In
1999, the Illinois House of Representatives
passed a bill giving graduate employees union rights. The GEO has repeatedly
sought peaceful negotiations with the Administration, but UI Administrators
have refused to discuss the matter with GEO. The GEO held a two-day
work stoppage in the fall of 2001, where 350 teaching assistants ceased
work and hundreds more picketed and marched in support.