Illinois House Passes Bill Clarifying Graduate Employee Union Rights

The Illinois House of Representatives late Thursday passed a bill that would end a three-year conflict between the University of Illinois and its 5,000 graduate student employees. House Bill 1208 amends the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act to include in the definition of “educational employee” graduate students employed by state universities. The bill confirms that Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants and Graduate Assistants are indeed employees with the right to unionize.
The vote was 68 for and 47 against, and the bill now moves on to the Senate.
Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, a co-sponsor of the 1983 Educational Labor Relations Act said on the House floor that the legislature did not intend to exclude graduate employees from coverage under the Act. HB 1208 will “resolve any ambiguity which has existed with respect to the intended meaning of the [student] exemption, and thereby eliminate the need for continuing disputes before the IELRB and in the courts,” she said.
The Graduate Employees’ Organization calls on the University administration to end its opposition to bargaining with graduate employees.
Over 3,000 graduate employees on the Urbana-Champaign campus supported a petition for a union representation election in 1996, but the University disputed their right to unionize. In 1997 the G.E.O. won by a wide margin a representation election monitored by the Champaign-Urbana Religious Workers Association. The G.E.O. is appealing a 1998 ruling by the Educational Labor Relations Board that graduate employees are not covered by state labor law because they are enrolled as students while they work for the University.
Graduate employees bargain collectively at 20 universities nation-wide, including the Universities of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas and New York. In addition, representation elections are pending in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and California.
The bill is sponsored by Representatives Todd Stroger, Connie Howard, Larry McKeon, Lou Jones, and Mary Flowers. H.B. 1208 is a one-sentence amendment to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act stating that “the term ‘student’ does not include a graduate student employed by an institution of higher education.”

G.E.O. to Hold Three-Day Work-In

Urbana, IL – The University of Illinois has a world-class reputation for undergraduate education and research. But do the parents and students of Illinois know that this reputation is sustained by the labor of some 5,800 graduate student employees who work as teachers, researchers, academic advisors and clerical staff?
The University administration refuses to recognize graduate employees as workers. It claims their work is educational, and their pay is merely financial aid.
On April 8, 9:30 am, the Graduate Employees’ Organization will hold a press conference to kick off a three-day public demonstration of graduate employees’ work. Graduate employees from across campus will bring their work to the Henry Administration Building and the U of I Quad from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We will teach, grade, counsel students, and do research and class preparation. At the press conference, brief statements of support will be made by Michael Bérubé, Professor of English, and Judy Stoll, President of AFSCME Local 3700. To learn more about who is teaching and advising undergraduates, and conducting important research for the University, please attend our press conference.
The press conference will take place on the east (quad) side of the Henry Administration Building at 506 S. Wright Street. Photographers will have an opportunity to take pictures or video of an undergraduate class of 500 students that is taught entirely by graduate teaching assistants.

U of I Graduate Employees Vote to Unionize

Urbana-Champaign, IL – Graduate employees have spoken: they want the G.E.O. to be their union. In a union election held April 15th and 16th, 64% of graduate employees voting chose the G.E.O. to be their representative in employment matters. The election turnout was exceptional, with almost 50% (2,539) of 5,446 graduate employees voting. These statistics are comparable to some, but better than most percentages in any state or national election. By comparison, recent University of Illinois Student Senate election turnout was only 5%, and Champaign county election turnout was 23%.
The Religious Workers Association of Champaign-Urbana, who conducted the election have officially announced the results. 1,633 voted for the Graduate Employees’ Organization – IFT/AFT and 906 voted for “No Representative.”
Last year, 3,226 graduate employees signed our petition requesting an election for union representation. This week’s election was the fulfillment of that request in spite of the University’s refusal to sanction the election up front.
Now, with the solid backing of graduate employees, the GEO has called on the administration to:
recognize and abide by the results of this election
drop their unnecessary lawsuit
begin an open discussion with the GEO on employment issues
The G.E.O. is ready to represent graduate employees, but will the University administration recognize the wishes of the majority? With this mandate from the majority, failure to recognize the graduate employees’ chosen bargaining agent would be a flagrant attack on graduate employees democratic right to negotiate and a demonstration of the administration’s anti-union stance. Regardless of the response, the Graduate Employees’ Organization will continue to fight for the rights of graduate employees.

G.E.O. files Petition for Election

On Monday, April 15, the GEO filed a petition with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) seeking a union election for the roughly 5,800 graduate employees (GAs, RAs and TAs) at the U of Illinois! The petition was the culmination of our 6 month campaign to build support for the union, and the first formal step toward real representation at the University.
The final count of authorization cards was 3,226. That’s 55% of all grad. employees (and the cards are still coming in). This is almost double the legally required minimum for filing, and demonstrates both the hard work that went into the campaign, and the strength of pro-union sentiment among grads. Most importantly, a majority of grads in each job category signed cards!
We had hoped that such a strong showing of interest would encourage the UIUC administration not to block the legal process leading to a union election. However, judging from quotes in the press and a recent memo to faculty, the administration will attempt to block our petition by claiming that we are students first and foremost and therefore not eligable for representation. We’ll know more in a week or so when the University officially responds to our petition, but we’re ready to talk to them anytime they want to.
A big congratulations to all the folks who made this happen! Without the hard work of GEO volunteers, and the over-work of our GEO staff, this campaign would not have been a success. Also key to this campaign was the financial and technical assistance of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (say thanks to your grade-school and high-school teachers), as well as the advice and solidarity of graduate employees across the country. Thanks to all the card-signers and supporters, and to all those who tolerated our insistent canvassing during the last week of the drive (“excuse me, are you a grad student…? Have you heard about the GEO…?”)!
Come to the April 22nd Membership Meeting to find out more and to help chart the future course of the GEO. And remember, This University (and this Union) Works Because We Do!