GEO Members work-in outside Henry Administration Building



Urbana-Champaign (April 1, 2016): The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO, IFT/AFT Local 6300) is holding a work-in on the quad outside the Henry Administration Building from 8:30 until noon on Friday, while members of the grievance team meet with university administrators. In January a federal arbitrator ruled in favor of the GEO and against the University of Illinois regarding a change in practice where academic departments were seeking cash reimbursement of tuition waivers from departments that hired their student as teaching or graduate assistants. The university administration has not indicated whether they will comply with the legally binding arbitration. Friday was the earliest time the university was willing to meet with the GEO since the ruling in January.


The GEO first secured a contractual right to tuition waivers for graduate employees through a 2-day strike in November 2009. That strike included more than 1,000 GEO members and supporters. Shortly after the contract language was secured in 2009 the University unilaterally changed tuition waiver policy in the College of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA). In that case an independent federal arbitrator ruled in favor of the GEO in 2011. The University refused to comply with the arbitrator’s binding ruling and only reinstated tuition waivers for all FAA graduate employees in an agreement made during the bargaining of GEO’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement.


In January a federal arbitrator agreed with the GEO that the Masters in Computer Science (MCS) program’s policy change violated their collective bargaining agreement with the University of Illinois. Sherwood Malamud wrote that “The MCS action upsets the full panoply of assumptions that underlie the University framework of support for graduate students. It reduces the value of the tuition waiver, when it imposes the costs of the tuition waiver on the employing unit, the unit granting the assistantship. The tuition waiver is transformed from the primary form of compensation to a competitive disqualifying cost.”


The arbitration ruling has potentially far-reaching consequences on the UIUC campus as more than 90% of departments have a designation that the administration argues allows them to seek cash reimbursement for the cost of tuition waivers. Functionally, seeking reimbursement renders assistants in those departments largely unemployable and without the protection of a collective bargaining agreement and its benefits. The arbitrator found that seeking reimbursement violates the current contract between the GEO and the University of Illinois.


The policy change in MCS was two-pronged. First, the Computer Science Department will not employ these graduate students in positions that come with a tuition waiver. Additionally, the Computer Science Department sought a cash reimbursement of tuition from any department willing to employ the MCS students. This would cost the hiring department approximately $30,000 per employee. Past practice has been to simply waive the cost of tuition. Many MCS students were extended offers of waiver-generating employment, only to have them rescinded after the hiring department became aware of the the tuition reimbursement policy.


Many MCS graduate students came to the University of Illinois with extensive experience as teaching assistants in both computer science and engineering. For this skill they were offered positions and paid as “hourly” employees for the same work done by other graduate employees who receive a salary, health, dental, and eye care insurance, and a tuition waiver.


“We have been trying to schedule a meeting with the administration for months to discuss a remedy in this case, as directed by the federal arbitrator. We are disappointed that it’s taken so long for the university administration to respond, and we hope they will comply with the legally binding ruling in our favor” said Grace Hébert, the GEO Grievance Officer.


The Graduate Employees’ Organization, AFT/IFT Local 6300, AFL-CIO, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, represents approximately 2700 Teaching and Graduate Assistants on the UIUC Campus. In November 2009, over 1,000 GEO members successfully went on strike to secure a fair contract and more accessible UIUC. With events like lobby day, the GEO continues to work for high quality and accessible public education in Illinois.


For more information, please contact Grace Hébert, at (512)461-2331 or More information can also be found on our website