Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board Hears GEO Tuition Waiver Language

Last Thursday in Chicago the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) heard the case of the Graduate Employees Organization concerning the matter of tuition waiver protection in their 2009 contract.

At the hearing the IELRB staff presented the facts and legal arguments of the case and recommended the Board decide in favor of the GEO. The recommendation by the IELRB staff fully affirms an earlier arbitrator’s decision on the case; when asked there was no dissent from the Board. The Board will make its formal ruling on November 15.

In 2009, approximately 1,000 GEO members went on strike and successfully won tuition waiver protection in their contract. Tuition waivers are a fundamental part of graduate education at every major university. Waivers are how universities, like Illinois, are able to hire graduate student labor so cheaply and compete for high quality and diverse students. A representative of the Administration has told officials of the GEO in a meeting held on March 2, 2012 that they actually see graduate tuition waivers as a means to “generate revenue.”

During 2010-2011 academic year the University administration began to charge hundreds of dollars of tuition each semester for incoming students in the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

The GEO determined this was a violation of their contract and filed a grievance on the matter. This grievance went to arbitration and the arbitrator ruled in GEO’s favor in September 2011. The Administration decided to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling to the IELRB.

“Today’s recommendation by the IELRB confirms GEO’s longstanding position that the Administration cannot unilaterally make changes to tuition waivers for members of our bargaining unit and that this is a mandatory subject of bargaining,” Said Natalye Tate, GEO Co-President. “It is time for the Administration to abide by the findings of the arbitrator and the IELRB and adhere to the contract that they signed.”

The IELRB recommendation comes as the GEO is currently in negotiations for a new contract. The 2009 contract expired on August 16, 2012. The two sides held a bargaining session this morning where tuition waivers were discussed, however no agreement was reached on tuition waiver protection language in the new contract.

On October 11 at General Membership Meeting, GEO members overwhelmingly approved an intent to strike vote. The intent to strike vote does not mandate that the GEO will go on strike, it simply puts that option on the table for the union. GEO membership will have the opportunity to vote to approve a work action if that option becomes necessary.

The GEO is a member of the IFT-AFT, AFL-CIO, and represents more than 2,400 Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants on campus, that teach more than 20% of all course hours offered at the University of Illinois, and more than 36% of all Freshman classes.

For more information, please contact Stephanie Seawell, at 217-722-7544 or