Open Letter to GEO Members

Dear GEO members,

You likely received an email today from the Administration distorting and outright denying the claims we have made as a union. First, this type of correspondence from the Administration is not uncommon during this point of contract negotiations. Indeed, similar emails went out in the days leading up to and during the Strike of 2009. It means that our organizing efforts have caught their attention, and that is due to the hard work and dedication of our members.

However, we would like to respond to the following assertions (listed below in quotes):

1) “Contrary to a steady stream of communications from the GEO, degree seeking graduate assistants do not need to fear that their assistantship tuition waiver support will be reduced or eliminated.”

· The administration’s actions do not support this claim. In November 2009, approximately 1,000 GEO members went on strike and successfully won tuition waiver protection in their contract.

· During 2010-2011 academic year the University administration began to charge hundreds of dollars of tuition each semester for incoming graduate employees in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, in direct violation of our contract.

· The GEO filed a grievance on this contract violation. In September 2011, a neutral arbitrator ruled in favor of the GEO. The administration continued to fight to be able to reduce these waivers. Just today the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board found unanimously in favor (5-0) of the GEO supporting our tuition waiver contract language.

· This means this Administration has already spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to change tuition waivers.

· A representative of this 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.”

· The Administration has continually refused to keep language in our contract that would protect tuition waivers for all of our members.

It is only logical to conclude that the administration sees graduate student tuition waivers as a source of revenue and is even willing to stand in violation of legally upheld contract language to make money on the backs of some of our lowest-paid members.

2) “The GEO’s second recurring theme is that the University pay proposals are unfair and do not provide assistants with a livable wage. Such accusations are inaccurate. Under the GEO contract that just expired, teaching and graduate assistants are guaranteed a minimum annual rate which translates to an approximate hourly rate of $19.00 per hour. The average rate on campus is $22.03 per hour (or $17,183 per year for an assistant with a 50 percent 9 month appointment). Over the three years of the GEO contract that just expired, the minimum stipend level was increased by 10 percent. The University has presented wage proposals that would guarantee that continuing assistants would receive salary increases consistent with those given to other employees under the campus salary program.”

· This is false and misleading. During bargaining, this Administration continually offers the majority of GEO members “the campus wage program.” The campus wage program means that the administration sets wages at their sole discretion, and provides no guarantee that anyone will receive any wage increase. It would be the equivalent of the GEO giving up the right to bargain salary if we agree to this misleading tactic. Both sides must bargain the entire salary and benefits package for each year the contract is in effect.

· The $17,183 average cited by this Administration includes members who make far above the minimum wage as well as those who are paid at the lowest scale. Approximately a third of our bargaining unit makes the minimum wage for Teaching and Graduate Assistants, $14,820. The GEO has proposed bringing that minimum up to what this Administration itself calculates as the living wage for Urbana-Champaign (which for 2012-2013 is $16,926), and to date this Administration has not agreed to that proposal.

We welcome the opportunity to work with the administration at obtaining a fair and living wage; we sincerely hope they plan to meet us in this effort as much as they have just claimed.

3) “Despite the strike authorization vote taken by the GEO, we want you to know that a strike is neither inevitable nor necessary. The issues of tuition waivers and pay can be resolved through negotiation and mediation, as they have been in the past. We urge you to become familiar with the facts and make decisions based on all of the relevant information related to the negotiations process.”

· We wholeheartedly and emphatically agree with the Administration’s statement that “the issues of tuition waivers and pay can be resolved through negotiations and mediation, as they have been in the past.”

· However, the GEO has met with the Administration more than 20 times since last April. The GEO has been working without a contract since mid-August. Two sessions with a federal mediator have not garnered agreement on health care, tuition waivers or wages. We didn’t receive a proposal of any kind on tuition waivers until just yesterday. That proposal includes flawed language that places many graduate employees at risk. We still believe there is no need to change the current language, which assures all members tuition waiver protection.

· We also “urge you to become familiar with the facts and make decisions based on all of the relevant information related to the negotiations process.” The GEO actively encourages all members to attend bargaining sessions. Dozens of members have sat through these sessions and have formed their own opinions based on this process.

The next two bargaining sessions are: November 26, 1 p.m. and 27, 8:30 a.m. at the Levis Faculty Center. We encourage all GEO members to join us at these sessions.

The GEO proposals are reasonable.  The top 28 administrators on campus received an average 5.86 percent wage increase this year. That’s over 5 percent added on to their six figure salaries. Compare that to the administration’s best offer to date, which leaves hundreds of TAs below the standard of a living wage. Under the current GEO wage proposal, total salaries for members would account for only 2 percent of the yearly campus budget. To put this in perspective, we teach 20 percent of all classes on campus.

Finally, the GEO has strong support on campus and beyond, that is growing every day. A petition on our behalf to the Board of Trustees has received more than 1,200 signatures in just 2 days. If you would like to add your name to the petition and send a message to the Illinois Board of Trustees, please follow the link to the petition on the GEOs website.



2 thoughts on “Open Letter to GEO Members”

  1. Here’s a response that was sent to the Provost from a fellow grad student (let’s all write back!):

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I am an international PhD student from Spain that is currently enrolled in a PhD program at your university. I am, as many others, TAing for a living.

    It strikes me to receive an email such as the one you just sent, because I’ve been getting very mixed informations on the topic, I hope you can help me clarify.

    You say that you are commited to continuing the TA and RAship system, my question would be: why do you then refuse to write it in the contract that GEO is bargaining?

    You address the concern that GEO raises about not paying ‘enough’ money. I am an international student and I have had to prove (twice now) that I have enough funds myself to cover the gap between the salary the University pays for my 50% appointment and the minimum that the university requires from me. It strikes me as surprising that the salary you’re giving is below the minimum amount you yourselves think is required to live here. It’s even worse that I had to ask for money to my parents to prove I can make up for the difference.

    There’s also several different versions of the raising of the salaries during the last years. Do you have an official document that explains (with the real numbers) how the increase is has happened? As I understood it was way below the inflation and also it’s part of the bargain right now, so having official numbers will surely help me understand.

    I thank you for the last paragraph, since I also believe it’s not necessary to strike and that negotiation and mediation are the best way to get to an agreement. However, as of right now, it looks like the university is been pushing the mediation off the table for some time and has failed to recognize the mediator’s judgement about GEO having legitimate claims.

    The only reliable information I have comes from the GEO, so I hope you can help shed some light onto my questions or else I will be forced to strike for my rights and the rights of all new international students that, like me, will have a hard time surviving AND then have to prove that they have more funds than those you give as a university requirement.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Yours sincerely,


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