11/14 Bargaining Session at Institute of Aviation in Champaign



URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (November 14): At 2:30 pm, the bargaining team of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), American Federation of Teachers/Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300, AFL-CIO, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), will meet the UIUC administration bargaining team for bargaining session at Willard Airport in Champaign, IL.  Members of the GEO will be present in the bargaining room, and GEO members will also stage a rally outside of the room in support of the bargaining team’s efforts.  Unless significant movement is made on the GEO’s core contract issues on Saturday, the strike committee of the GEO is prepared to call a strike to begin as early as Monday morning.

The GEO is a labor union representing all teaching and graduate assistants (TAs and GAs) on the UIUC campus.  With over 2600 GEO members, and over 2600 graduate employees represented in the bargaining unit, the GEO is one of the largest higher education union locals in the United States.  Over the course of a three day vote, an overwhelming 92% of participating UIUC GEO members voted last week to authorize a strike against the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.  With the vote, GEO members have given the strike committee of the UIUC GEO a clear mandate to call a strike at any time.

While the GEO is seeking an increase in the minimum salary to the University of Illinois’ (UI) Office of Student Financial Services own estimate of a living wage in Urbana-Champaign, a proposal that represents less than two-tenths of one percent the overall UIUC budget, the decision to authorize a strike is about much more than wages.  The UIUC administration’s most regressive proposals concern non-salary issues. First, the administration claims that UI Board of Trustees Policy protects tuition waivers, but only in-state tuition waivers for GAs (not TAs) are protected, and the administration has moved to drastically reduce tuition waiver coverage in the past.  Tuition waivers are essential to the University of Illinois’ mission as a public land grant institution, as they help to ensure that graduate education is truly accessible to all who show merit, regardless of economic background.

The UIUC administration seeks to characterize tuition waivers as part of compensation, but this is highly misleading, as tuition is not considered in the OSFA’s estimate of a living wage.  Many graduate employees do not receive full tuition waivers, and can pay as much as $10,000 for tuition while providing vital instructional labor for the University.  Protecting tuition waivers as they now stand would represent no increased cost to UIUC.  The administration’s reluctance to do so is totally contrary to UIUC’s stated commitment to not only excellence in education and research, but the ability to provide truly accessible access to education as part of UIUC’s mission as a land-grant institution.

The GEO strike authorization is also in reaction to the UIUC administration’s proposed “scope of the agreement” clause, which would prevent the GEO from re-opening bargaining for the entire three year duration of the proposed contract.  This is a highly regressive proposal that seeks to undermine the purpose of union protection for employees, and the UIUC Campus Labor Coalition supports the GEO in refusing to agree to this clause.

GEO bargaining unit members teach 23.1% of all undergraduate course hours at UIUC, and perform comparably to faculty in official student evaluations of instructor performance as measured by the University of Illinois’ Center for Teaching Excellence.   Yet our salaries draw only 6.5% of state funding, including salaries for GAs and Research Assistants, who don’t teach.  By contrast, faculty salaries draw over 55% of the University budget.  Graduate employee labor is vital to the fiscally efficient provision of the University’s core service, academic instruction. Should graduate employee salaries be set to a living wage, the University would still have a large pool of inexpensive and high quality instructional and administrative labor.

The GEO has been negotiating with UIUC administrators for over six months.  While the GEO presented the administration with a full contract proposal on the first day of negotiations, the UIUC administration declined to offer a counterproposal until August 11th, just four days before the GEO’s previous contract expired.  The UIUC administration’s initial contract proposal sought to freeze GEO wages for three years, reserve the right to furlough and layoff graduate employees in good standing, and to count “in-kind” compensation such as housing or meal vouchers toward the minimum salary mandated in the contract.  The administration still seeks to freeze GEO wages, refuse to provide contractual protection for tuition waivers, and take away the GEO’s right to re-open bargaining during the contract should the administration make any substantial change in employment conditions.

GEO members have been working hard to avoid a strike.  Hundreds of GEO members have participated in six major demonstrations, and GEO members have also lobbied the Illinois House of Representatives Higher Education Appropriations Committee, spoken with state legislators from Champaign, actively informed campus community members about the issues, and maintained a constant presence in Urbana-Champaign print, radio and television media.  The Illinois Student Senate has passed two resolutions in support of the GEO and the decision to authorize a strike, and the University of Illinois Faculty Senate passed a resolution of non-retaliation.  Several departments and dozens of faculty have issued public resolutions in support of the GEO, and over a dozen undergraduate representatives of Registered Student Organizations representing hundreds of undergraduate students issued a resolution in support of the GEO’s strike authorization.  UIUC union locals represented by the Campus Labor Coalition also publicly support the GEO and the GEO’s strike authorization.

As with any labor negotiation, however, the most effective pressure has been the threat of a strike. Only after GEO members at a General Membership Meeting voted unanimously to file an “intent to strike” notice did the University administration offer their first compromise proposals.  Accordingly, the Coordinating Committee and Steward’s Council of the GEO voted unanimously to hold a strike authorization vote from November 4-6. By voting to authorize a strike, GEO members have taken a vital step in holding the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign administration accountable to its stated commitment to excellence in research and undergraduate education.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Peter Campbell, GEO Communications Officer, odell.campbell@gmail.com, 253-222-5861, or the GEO office at geo@uigeo.org, 217-344-8283, 1001 S. Wright Street, Champaign, IL, 61820.  Information about the GEO can also be found on our website at www.uigeo.org.