The Graduate Employees’ Organization IFT/AFT Local 6300 (GEO) calls on the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois to pressure the administration of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to agree to a non-discrimination clause in its contract with graduate employees and to retire the school’s racist mascot, Chief Illiniwek.
GEO members believe that the Chief Illiniwek controversy speaks to larger issues of fairness and diversity at UIUC. According to Rosemary Braun, Co-President of the GEO, “Last year, our membership passed a resolution calling for the university to get rid of the Chief. We are concerned that this mascot is not consistent with the university’s obligation to promote diversity and equal opportunity in the workplace. This is particularly true for Native American employees on campus.”
During negotiations between the university and the union, the administration’s representatives have resisted adding a non-discrimination clause to the contract, which would pledge both parties to guarantee an equitable workplace, free from all forms of discrimination and harassment. “This is a no-brainer,” stated Braun. “Every other union on this campus has non-discrimination language in their contracts. I’m amazed that the administration thinks that graduate employees will work without these protections.”
At a time when layoffs and budget cuts are on everyone’s mind, having a strong non-discrimination clause in a graduate employee contract makes common sense. The GEO wants an efficient and fair grievance process in their contract to help prevent abuse. “When a graduate employee is forced to sue his or her employer, no one wins. The proceedings can drag on for years and could potentially cost the university millions of dollars, diverting precious resources away from the university’s core mission of education,” said Bryan Nicholson, a GEO member in the History department.
Though barred from addressing the board directly at its meeting on May 15, 2003 at the Illini Union, GEO members will be present at the board meeting to signify their demand for a fair contract as well as their opposition to the Chief. In addition, a presenter from the Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative will discuss the addition of a non-discrimination clause to the GEO’s contract in the context of the debate over the controversial mascot.
The GEO is affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, which represents over 15,000 graduate employees nation-wide. The GEO is the only democratically elected representative of graduate employees on the UIUC campus. The GEO is part of a growing movement toward graduate employee representation which has succeeded at over 35 campuses.