At 8:00 PM, August 2nd, Graduate Employees’ Organization co-president Dean Beck announced that the union’s membership had overwhelmingly voted to ratify a labor contract with the University of Illinois. The vote tally was 610 “Yes,” 10 “No,” and 27 invalid. In absolute and relative terms, the election was a remarkable success; over 50% of the union’s membership participated in the process, and 98% voted “Yes.”
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The three-year contract, which extends from 2003-2006, covers over 2,500 teaching and graduate assistants at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Among the key features of the agreement are 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.
The ratification election took place from July 19 to August 2nd. Besides polling stations at the GEO office and the Illini Union, members cast their ballots in by mail, and hundreds made their selection through e-mail voting. “This is a tremendous victory for graduate employees who are going to see improvements to their wages, medical costs, and working conditions,” said Bryan Nicholson, Communications Officer. “Credit goes to the GEO’s indefatigable bargaining team, our tireless union staff, invaluable allies in the Illinois and American Federation of Teachers, supporters from the faculty and local community, and most of all, to the thousands of grad workers at UIUC who for ten years built up this prairie fire movement into a fully-fledged union with a contract.”
This agreement is also a win for the entire university community since the contract keeps UIUC competitive with peer institutions that have grad unions. “Faculty and undergraduates should see this first contract as an investment in bringing the finest graduate employees from across the U.S. and the world to Urbana Champaign.”
Next on the agenda for the union is successfully implementing the terms of the thirty-page document. Said co-president Beck, “Starting tomorrow, we go to work to make sure that the pay raises and lower health care costs show up in grad employees’ pay packet.”