Joint Statement from Graduate Employees’ Organization & University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

[For the complete text of the agreement, click here.]
Culminating weeks of negotiations, the Graduate Employees’ Organization IFT/AFT (GEO) and the University of Illinois announced today that they have reached an agreement about the composition of an electorate to vote on a potential union of graduate assistants at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

Continue reading “Joint Statement from Graduate Employees’ Organization & University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign”

GEO and UI Administration Reach Agreement in First-Ever Negotiations

GEO Wins Union Rights for Nearly 2,500 Graduate Employees

June 6, 2002

The GEO and the University Administration today announced a joint
agreement on the composition of a bargaining unit
for graduate employees.
The agreement, if approved by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations
Board (IELRB), would give nearly 2500 graduate employees the right to
vote in a union election and select the GEO as their official representative.

"This is a real victory for the GEO," said Uma Pimplaskar,
GEO’s negotiating team leader. "We’ve been working for this moment
for the last seven years. It proves what we’ve long known — that when
grads stick together and fight for their rights, we can win. We appreciate
the administration’s efforts to bargain with us in good faith and we look
forward to this spirit of cooperation continuing throughout the election
and into the collective bargaining process. When we work together, graduate
employees, the university, and the students benefit."

The GEO and the Administration agreed to out-of-court settlement negotiations
on March 13th after GEO members and supporters staged a sit-in at the
Swanlund Administration Building. The negotiations were the first time
the Administration had met formally with the GEO, which won 64% of the
votes in a 1997 union election. A tentative agreement was reached on April
29th, and was ratified by the GEO membership in a secret-ballot referendum
that concluded on May 1st. The agreement gives union rights to almost
all Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants, but excludes Research
Assistants and those with the newly created title of Pre-professional
Graduate Assistant.

While more exact numbers will not be known until the fall 2002 semester,
as many as 2500 graduate employees will be eligible to vote in a union
election and be covered by a union contract. The numbers represent an
increase of approximately 800% from the initial ruling made by the Labor
Board in spring 2001. If, as GEO members hope, the Labor Board approves
the settlement, the GEO would represent the third-largest bargaining unit
of grad employees in the country, after Florida and Wisconsin-Madison.

"Once we win the election next year, we’ll be able to sit down with
the Administration and talk about our working conditions," said GEO
Co-President Jon Coit. " A union contract is the best way to protect
grads on this campus, especially in this time of budget cuts."

The GEO realizes that it must still fight for all graduate employees,
even those excluded from any union election and contract. "We’ve
been working to help grads for seven years, and we’re going to continue
to advocate for the best interests of every grad on this campus,"
said GEO Co-President Rosemary Braun, who, as an RA in Physics, will not
be eligible to vote in a union election. "Just because some grads
won’t be covered by a union contract is no reason to ignore their interests.
We can still help them with problems and draw attention to their grievances."

The GEO is affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the
American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The AFT — which represents more
than 1.2 million teachers, paraprofessionals and other school support
employees, higher education faculty, nurses and other healthcare workers,
and state and local government employees — has been organizing and supporting
graduate employees for more than 30 years and currently represents over
14,000 graduate employees in 13 locals nationwide.

Want to know more? Contact the GEO office at (217)344-8283 or

Text of the Agreement Negotiated by the Graduate Employees’ Organization IFT/AFT and the Administration of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign



The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois and the Graduate
Employees’ Organization, AFT, IFT, AFL-CIO (GEO) have been engaged in
a unit determination proceeding as a result of a petition filed by GEO
to represent assistants at the Urbana-Champaign campus. After lengthy
legal proceedings, including appeals to the Illinois Educational Labor
Relations Board (IELRB) and the Appellate
Court, the parties agreed to engage in off-the-record talks to explore settlement of the case. The focus
of the talks was to identify which assistants have responsibilities and
perform duties which are significantly connected to the educational programs
and/or degrees which they are pursuing as graduate students (and should
be excluded from a bargaining unit), and which assistants lack such a
"significant connection" (and should be included in a bargaining

The following stipulations represent the understanding and agreement
of the parties concerning bargaining unit composition, contingent upon
review and approval by each parties’ constituents, and submission (in
an acceptable format) to the IELRB. It is the intent of the parties to
pursue the necessary steps for such review and approval, and submission
to the IELRB.


I. Subject to the definitions and exclusions
set forth below, the GEO and the University stipulate that the bargaining
unit in which a representation election will be conducted by the Illinois
Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) shall include assistants
who are graduate students in good standing at the University’s Urbana-Champaign
campus and who have appointments as either Teaching Assistants (except
for the initial semester when teaching is required by the departments
listed below) or Graduate Assistants; and either hold a total appointment
between .25 FTE and .67 FTE, or who receive a tuition and fee waiver from
the assistantship appointment. The bargaining unit shall exclude Research
Assistants (RA) and Pre-professional Graduate Assistants (PGA) as defined
below. Only those hours/duties spent by a graduate employee in the satisfaction
of his/her included (TA or GA) appointment will be included in the bargaining

A. Definition of Teaching Assistants:

The duties of a teaching assistant are primarily in support of instruction,
such as teaching classes; grading student assignments; leading lab or
discussion groups in a course setting; developing academic instructional
materials; accompanying/coaching music or vocal performances; providing
artistic instruction; proctoring exams; overseeing or coordinating the
work of other TAs; holding office hours; and/or tutoring students. Teaching
Assistants in the following departments will be excluded from the bargaining
unit only for the first semester that they teach:

Animal Biology; Biochemistry; Cell & Structural Biology; Chemistry;
Germanic Languages & Literature; Microbiology; Plant Biology; and

B. Definition of Graduate Assistants:

Graduate Assistants include all other assistants whose responsibilities
are not covered by the definitions of Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant
or Pre-professional Graduate Assistant. The duties of a Graduate Assistant
are primarily in support of administrative functions, such as:

1) Clerical support (copying course materials, general office work/clerical/receptionist,
correspondence, and supervising a reading room);
2) Technical/support services (Webmaster/assisting faculty with web
pages, network administration/end user support, equipment management,
monitoring instructional and service labs [computer, video etc.], translation,
routine support for publications [record keeping, writing copy for university
or department newsletters or non-research publications, correspondence,
3) Advising (providing curricular and academic advice to students, providing
support to advisors); and
4) Outreach duties (recruiting students, publicizing programs and activities
to campus and public constituencies, and working with/assisting with
event management).


II. It is stipulated that all RAs and PGAs
as defined below are excluded from the bargaining unit.

A. Definition of Research Assistants:

The duties of a research assistant primarily involve applying and mastering
research concepts, practices, or methods of scholarship by such means
as conducting experiments, organizing or analyzing data, presenting findings
in a publication or dissertation, collaborating with faculty in preparing
publications, overseeing work of other RAs, and other research activities.

B. Definition of Pre-professional Graduate Assistants:

Pre-professional Graduate Assistants (PGA) are appointed to non-TA/non-RA
assistantship positions, where they primarily gain experience, practice
or guidance significantly connected to their fields of study and career
preparation. Students enrolled in the following programs of study and
who are appointed in their enrolling unit or in any of the corresponding
appointing units listed below (or successor programs or departments) may
be classified as PGAs:




All departments of the University Library, Mortensen Center, Library
Research Center, Center for Children’s Books

2) Social Work, Psychology, Educational Psychology, Community Health,
Nutritional Sciences, Medical Scholars, Speech and Hearing Sciences,
Special Education

Student Affairs units providing counseling, social work or health
related services, such as Dean of Students, Counseling Center, McKinley
Health Center, Housing

3) Kinesiology, Leisure Studies


4) Theatre, Music, Dance


5) Law

University Counsel

6) Architecture

Planning, Design & Construction, Fire Service Institute

7) Journalism

News Bureau

8) Educational Organization or Educational Policy Studies

Dean of Students

University Remand Exhibit 16A illustrates which current GAs would have
been classified as PGAs during Spring semester 2002. It is stipulated
that other PGA positions may exist or be created (for example, as a result
of creation of a new campus unit), in subsequent semesters and their inclusion/exclusion
shall be subject to the process specified in Section IV.


III. Teaching Assistants or Graduate Assistants who are supervisors,
managerial employees, confidential employees, or short term employees
as defined by the IELRA are excluded from the bargaining unit.


IV. All assistants will be classified for the fall 2002 semester
by the four categories described in this document. By October 1, 2002,
the University will provide the GEO with a list of fall 2002 assistantship
appointments which were made by the September 2002 pay calculation date,
after which the University agrees to meet with the GEO to attempt to resolve
any disagreements over the eligibility of specific employees.


V. It is understood that these stipulations must first be reviewed
and approved by each party’s constituents before submission to the IELRB.


Dated this 29th day of April, 2002

For the GEO:

For the University (UIUC):

Uma Pimplaskar

Richard Herman

Archive of Daily Illini Articles on the GEO


GEO plans second work stoppage
February 27, 2002

Forum: GEO plans for spring
February 28, 2002

Letter to the Editor: ISG members back GEO
February 28, 2002

Letter to the Editor: College Democrats support GEO
March 4, 2002

GEO has got to grow
March 5, 2002

Urbana City Council offers support to GEO
March 13, 2002

GEO affordable
March 13, 2002

University and GEO to discuss union criteria
March 14, 2002

Letter to the Editor: Benefits of unionization
March 15, 2002

GEO and University step toward agreement
April 1, 2002



Grad employee union solution talks underway
January 16, 2001

GEO’s unionization eligibility to be decided
January 22, 2001

GEO rally paves way for a legal election:
Election to decide if GEO will serve as grad assisants’ collective bargaining

January 30, 2001

Labor board puts restrictions on GEO
February 12, 2001

Labor board delays graduate student unionization decision
March 6, 2001

Labor board rejects TA unionization; GEO isn’t surprised
March 28, 2001

Letter to the Editor: Some apologies necessary
April 19, 2001

Letter to the Editor: GEO is worth fighting for
September 6, 2001

GEO nears ‘end of the road’
October 4, 2001

Letter to the Editor: Undergrads also support GEO
October 11, 2001

Letter to the Editor: GEO not just about the money
October 12, 2001

Letter to the Editor: Students should know GEO
October 25, 2001

Letter to the Editor: University’s nonrecognition of GEO policy "misinformed"
October 26, 2001

Letter to the Editor: Grad union deserves recognition
October 29, 2001

Letter to the Editor: The GEO is my hero
October 30, 2001

Students demand alternatives for processing complaints
October 30, 2001

Letter to the Editor: Union isn’t about you
October 31, 2001

Forum: Why GEO?
November 5, 2001

TA’s to strike after Thanksgiving
November 5, 2001

Letter to the Editor: It’s time for action
November 7, 2001

Letter to the Editor: North of Green support for GEO
November 8, 2001

Letter to the Editor: College Dems back GEO
November 14, 2001

Planned stoppage not new for Cantor
November 26, 2001

Letter to the Editor: Support progress
November 27, 2001

University can’t buy integrity
November 27, 2001

Scooby Doo and you
November 29, 2001

Democracy denied
November 29, 2001

GEO pickets for union rights
November 29, 2001

GEO strike, as promised
November 29, 2001

Letter to the Editor: Grad students underappreciated
November 30, 2001

Stoppage continues
November 30, 2001

Letter to the Editor: Undergrads replaceable
December 3, 2001

Letter to the Editor: GEO rightly political
December 6, 2001



Forum draws one side of GEO debate:
Administrators invited, but do not show to ISG forum on graduate union

March 1, 2000

Vote GEO — today
March 7, 2000

No open invite for GEO: GEO’s meeting with Aiken falls through
March 10, 2000

TAs might strike following work-in:
GEO members hold classes on Quad to gather support for unionization

March 30, 2000

GEO turned away: GEO’s attempts to meet with administrators fail again
March 24, 2000

Little progress made by GEO sit-in:
Administration refuses formal talks with GEO, strike under consideration

April 3, 2000

History department first to back GEO:
Teachers worried about upcoming strike vote and results if GEO is not

April 10, 2000

Letter to the Editor: Support the GEO
April 11, 2000

Letter to the Editor: We want a voice, that’s all
April 13, 2000

GEO files grievance against grad college:
Formal grievance filed with University in response to recent dialogue

April 28, 2000

GEO protests outside Swanlund, threatens strike:
Four GEO members meet with administration; no resolution reached

May 4, 2000

GEO ruling reversed by Illinois Court of Appeals:
Court orders case returned to Illinois labor relations board

June 30, 2000

ISG responds to status of the GEO:
A written statement expresses union support

September 7, 2000

Letter to the Editor: Graduate students need to unionize
September 14, 2000

Graduate Employee Organization reinforces strike possibility
September 20, 2000

Letter to the Editor: GEO did the right thing
September 29, 2000

Little GEO vs. big University
October 2, 2000

GEO pickets, gives UI ‘one more chance’:
Members send 5-foot letter to Stukel asking for signature of agreement

October 5, 2000

Ill. high court denies appeal:
Supreme Court refuses to hear UI’s case; terms for eligibility to organize

October 5, 2000

Unions work at two other universities:
UI conditions might not suit unionization

October 18, 2000

Understand the GEO
October 24, 2000

Undergrad group invites GEO to address students:
Informational forum addresses concerns about unionization

November 17, 2000

Students unpaid for work:
International students started work before I-9 forms were done

December 11, 2000



House passes unionizing bill:
Amendment giving graduate students the right to unionize awaits Senate

March 22, 1999

GEO spouse tuition policy is unchanged
March 31, 1999

Graduate unions through the eyes of their faculty
April 23, 1999



Winkel ignores graduate students
November 2, 1998

Graduate employees push for University recognition:
GEO attempts to meet with deans to assert their right to unionize

December 11, 1998

GEO Members and Allies Occupy Swanlund Administration Building; Entire Building Closed by GEO Blockade

At approximately 7:30 this morning, nearly 50 members and supporters
of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) entered and occupied the
Swanlund Administration Building (corner of Sixth St. and John St., Champaign).
GEO members are standing in all the entrances to prevent any University
employees from entering the building. The building, which normally holds
100+ employees, is completely closed down by this action.

"We’re here to demand that the Board of Trustees and University
Administration negotiate an out-of-court settlement that respects the
express wishes of graduate employees for union representation," said
GEO Co-President Uma Pimplaskar. "We insist that this agreement be
made as a public promise and written down in a signed, official letter."

Today’s action is timed to coincide with the arrival of the Board of
Trustees to the Urbana-Champaign campus for a two-day meeting. "The
Administration always has excuses for not meeting us," said GEO Communications
Officer Dave Kamper, "But today, their choice is simple: they can
negotiate with us, or they can arrest us."

The GEO has already scheduled a three-day
strike for the second week of April, which can only be averted by
a settlement today. GEO members have vowed to keep up the pressure on
the UI Administration until graduate employees are granted union rights.

Background: The GEO has been fighting for the rights of graduate employees
since 1994. 3,226 teaching, research and graduate assistants signed
cards calling for a union election in 1996, and 64% of voters chose
GEO in a 1997 election. In
1999, the Illinois House of Representatives
passed a bill giving graduate employees union rights. The GEO has repeatedly
sought peaceful negotiations with the Administration, but UI Administrators
have refused to discuss the matter with GEO. The GEO held a two-day
work stoppage in the fall of 2001, where 350 teaching assistants ceased
work and hundreds more picketed and marched in support.

GEO Sit-In Results in First-Ever Negotiations With UI Administration; Administration Agrees to Negotiate With Grad Employees

Today, after graduate employees held a daylong Sit-in at the Swanlund Administration Building, University of Illinois officials reversed their long-standing policy of refusing to negotiate with the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO). Administrators conceded to a series of ongoing meetings with GEO representatives to determine which graduate employees will be eligible to vote in a union election and covered by a union contract.

Continue reading “GEO Sit-In Results in First-Ever Negotiations With UI Administration; Administration Agrees to Negotiate With Grad Employees”

Text Of The Agreement Reached Between The GEO And The University

The University and the GEO will meet at least once a week beginning March 29, 2002 with a goal of reaching an agreement by April 28, 2002 on the composition of a bargaining unit.* The parties hope that substantial progress will be made by April 15, 2002 so that said progress can be communicated to the various constituencies. The final agreement would be jointly submitted to the Labor Board to certify a bargaining unit and conduct an election.
* It is understood that the final list of names of assistants to be included in the bargaining unit cannot be determined until assistantship appointments are finalized during fall semester 2002.
Richard Herman
Provost & Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Urbana City Council Endorses GEO; Final Vote Expected Next Week

Meeting as a committee of the whole, the seven members of the Urbana City Council endorsed a pro-GEO resolution by a vote of 6-1 at its Monday meeting. The resolution will be formally approved at its meeting next week. All seven members of the city council spoke in support of GEO’s goal of union representation for teaching, research, and graduate assistants, and six of the seven felt the issue important enough to warrant a formal resolution by the Council.
The resolution states, in part, “we urge the University of Illinois and the Board of Trustees to avert a strike or similar disruptive actions by respecting the rights of graduate employees to organize and bargain collectively…we call upon the Board of Trustees to meet immediately with the Graduate Employees’ Organization and reach agreement on the terms of collective bargaining.”
“This shows how united the community is in support of GEO,” said GEO member Rosemary Braun, a graduate employee in Physics and an Urbana resident. “Graduate employees live in Urbana. They send their children to Urbana schools. We use Urbana doctors. We eat in Urbana restaurants. The support of the Urbana City Council sends a powerful message to the University Administration that this issue is one that affects the whole Twin Cities area, not just the campus.”
The endorsement comes at an appropriate time, as the UI Board of Trustees will be arriving in town Wednesday for a two-day meeting. GEO members have already planned a rally for 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, at the Illini Union, to urge the Board of Trustees to negotiate an out-of-court settlement that respects the express wishes of graduate employees for union representation.
“This is yet another reason for the Board of Trustees to reverse their undemocratic stance,” said GEO Communications Officer Dave Kamper. “The Illinois House of Representatives supports us. The Urbana City Council supports us. The UI faculty support us. Undergraduates support us. Graduate employees have shown time and again that they want a union. Only the Administration is against us. Whose University is this?”

Continue reading “Urbana City Council Endorses GEO; Final Vote Expected Next Week”

G.E.O. Announces Plans For Three-Day Strike, Calls on UI Administration to Respect Union Rights

The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) today announced plans for a
three-day work stoppage the week of April 8th to pressure the Administration
of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to recognize the union
rights of graduate employees. This semester’s work stoppage will involve
more employees and target more buildings than the two-day
action of November
in which 350 teaching assistants cancelled classes,
and nearly 8,000 students were affected each day.

"We want the Administration to know that the pressure on them and
these types of actions will not stop until we have a union," said
GEO Co-President Uma Pimplaskar. "They can end this and future actions
any time by agreeing to negotiate a contract with graduate employees, but they’d prefer to waste time and taxpayer
money fighting democracy."

The announcement from the GEO Strike Committee is a response to the continued
hostility of the university Administration to graduate employees’ efforts
to unionize. The GEO has shown its strength in the past, with 3,226
grads asking for an election
in 1996, and 64%
choosing GEO as their union representative
in a 1997 election conducted
by the Religious Workers Association. With over 1,150 active members and
thousands of additional supporters, the GEO is the largest graduate organization
on campus. The Administration, however, has refused to allow graduate
employees the right to union representation, so the GEO Strike Committee
has decided more pressure is needed.

"We want grads to have a voice," said GEO officer Jon Coit.
"In this time of budget crisis, the employees who keep this campus
open need to be involved in the process. Only a union contract guarantees
us that involvement."

The GEO simply seeks to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the
Administration that guarantees graduate employees the right to union representation
and the commencement of good-faith negotiations on a binding contract
that covers the working conditions of the over 5,000 Teaching, Research,
and Graduate Assistants at UIUC.

"The Administration keeps saying they can’t negotiate with
us because their hands are tied by the courts," said GEO steward
Kate Bullard, "but that’s simply not true. They can settle with
us at any time, and our strike this semester will show them we’re
not going to rest until they come to the negotiating table ready to talk."