Want Better Wages, Healthcare, & Protections? There’s Power In Numbers!

More than 40 graduate employees packed GEO’s second negotiations session, Tuesday, March 11. We were able to win fair “ground rules” — rules that govern conduct of the bargaining committees — by coming out in big numbers to support our negotiating team. After we finalized the ground rules, we started discussing our proposal on non-economic items.
The administration is still dragging its feet on dates; they spent much of the session in caucus (a break from face-to-face negotiations) and only agreed to meet twice more before the end of the semester, April 1 and 15.
[A PDF version of Update is available as well.]

Negotiations are open
At our first bargaining session, February 11, the administration had proposed that we ban observers from the sessions, limit the size of our team and withhold proposals from our members. Their spokesperson also objected to the GEO having an RA, Social Work grad Jeff Scott, on our bargaining team. At the March 11 session, with grad employees present, they dropped their unreasonable demands and signed off on a standard set of ground rules.
Our agreement does not include a gag rule or impose restrictions on the composition of bargaining teams. It does require each team to channel contact to the other through one person, the chief negotiator. We also agreed not to discuss details of our proposals with the media until a tentative agreement is reached. GEO Co-President and physics grad Rosemary Braun is our chief negotiator; the administration’s chief negotiator is Peg Rawles, deputy university legal counsel.
Non-Discrimination Debate
We began dealing with substantive issues by discussing the non-discrimination provision we want to include in the contract. Our proposal seeks protections beyond those outlined in state and federal law (for example, discrimination based on sexual orientation is not illegal) and would enable an employee to seek redress by filing a grievance.
Filing a grievance gives graduate employees who believe they’ve been discriminated against meaningful access to the highest levels of the administration. Most importantly, if an agreement cannot be reached, an impartial arbitrator reviews the information and issues a ruling that’s binding on both parties. This strengthens our rights under state and federal law.
Federal law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, creed, color, religion, or national origin. Illinois state law prohibits discrimination based on age, ancestry, and military status. The GEO proposal would prohibit practices that are currently legal, including discrimination based on: sexual orientation, political opinions, native language, marital or parental status and membership in international or local organizations.
“Our proposal is based on concerns raised by graduate employees,” says Chang Wang, grad in Art & Design. “We’re trying to address unfair practices that graduate employees witnessed or experienced firsthand.”
The administration team indicated they would have a problem binding UI to contractual language that exceeds federal and state standards. They also pointed out that UI policy prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. “They want us to trust that they’ll follow their own policies,” says Jeff Scott. “We think it’s important to have an unbiased enforcement mechanism. If they are fair, we won’t need to use it.”
GEO’s bargaining team expects a formal counterproposal on April 1. “We base our decisions on what graduate employees are willing to push for,” explains Scott. “It’s not up to the team, it’s up to everyone.”
All Graduate Employees Decide
Some graduate employee contracts have broad non-discrimination provisions like GEO’s initial proposal. Other contracts simply mirror state and federal discrimination laws. Do you think it’s important to exceed federal and state mandates in our first contract? It’s time to act!