GEO Tuition Waiver Victory in Landmark Arbitration Ruling!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: TEACHING ASSISTANTS’ UNION WINS LANDMARK ARBITRATION CASE AGAINST MAJOR PUBLIC UNIVERSITY   

Urbana-Champaign, IL (October 3): The Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has won a landmark arbitration ruling in a contract dispute with UIUC administrators over tuition waivers.

An independent arbitrator has ruled that an attempt by University of Illinois officials to reduce tuition waivers for some incoming graduate employees represents a clear violation of the contract between the union and the Illinois Board of Trustees.

Tuition waivers are a benefit of employment, which represent no cost to the University. Preventing reduction of tuition waivers will preserve quality of education at Illinois, organizers say, while protecting vital labor standards.

In November 2009, over 1,000 Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) members went on strike to prevent the reduction or elimination of tuition waivers for graduate employees. This was the fifth largest work stoppage in the United States in 2009. They GEO won contract language protecting tuition waivers for current and future Teaching and Graduate Assistants at UIUC.

In the Summer of 2010, the GEO learned of a policy change affecting tuition waivers for incoming graduate employees in several departments in the College of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA). Effective Fall of 2010, incoming graduate employees in these departments were no longer granted waivers for out-of-state tuition. Even with temporary scholarships, many Fine and Applied Arts graduate employees, earning between $7,000.00 and $9,000.00 per academic year, were left with additional fees totaling up to $1,000.00.

This change in tuition waiver policy was a clear violation of the GEO’s contract with the Illinois Board of Trustees. In 2010, the GEO filed a grievance alleging a contract violation, while GEO members launched a public awareness campaign that included email and letter drives, communication with elected officials, testimony to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, and other events.

By attempting to charge incoming graduate employees tuition in clear violation of its contract with teaching and graduate assistants, administrators have cost the University of Illinois as much as $100,000.00. This is yet another example of flawed budget priorities at UIUC, where the most vulnerable members of the University community are frequently asked to shoulder the burdens of budget shortfalls.

After an arbitration hearing in mid-July, an independent arbitrator on September 20 declared the University’s tuition waiver policy in violation of its contract with the GEO. The arbitrator ordered the U of I administration to make whole any harm done to graduate employees.

The arbitration victory marks a significant achievement for GEO members. According to GEO communications officer Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy, “not only does the ruling secure tuition waivers as a benefit of employment for graduate employees, which is absolutely necessary to maintain accessibility to public higher education at UIUC; it also helps protect the arts from budgetary cutbacks.”

While the GEO has much cause to celebrate, the story of tuition waivers and the arts at UIUC is not over. The GEO is entering another bargaining year. According to GEO Co- President Miriam Larsen, “our members are fully committed to protecting the tuition waivers that make a high quality graduate education accessible to a diverse student body.”

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For more information, please contact Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy, Communications Officer, at 858-382-2271 or rodrigo.pacheco.mcevoy@gmail.com. More information can also be found on the website at uigeo.org.