MAJOR VICTORY FOR LABOR
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: GEO STRIKE COMMITTEE VOTES TO OFFICIALLY SUSPEND STRIKE
TEACHING AND GRADUATE ASSISTANTS AT UIUC RETURNING TO WORK PENDING CONTRACT RATIFICATION VOTE
URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (November 17): On Tuesday, November 17, at 7:00 pm, the Strike Committee of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), AFT/IFT Local 6300, AFL-CIO, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), officially and unanimously voted to suspend the two day strike that brought major portions of the University campus to a standstill. During a General Membership Meeting which began at 5:30 pm, the GEO bargaining team facilitated a discussion of the tentative agreements that it had signed during this morning’s negotiation session with the administration bargaining team. Afterwards, in a simple up or down vote, the 450 members present unanimously recommended to the strike committee that it accept the agreement and suspend the strike. The strike committee met immediately afterwards and took its decision.
With the strike suspended, GEO members are back at work, effective immediately. Teaching assistants will conduct their class sections tomorrow, and graduate assistants will carry out their duties at facilities across campus, including libraries, health and recreation centers, theaters, and specialized academic units.
The GEO coordinating committee will meet tomorrow to determine the schedule for a strike ratification vote to take place over the course of two days. Should the GEO general membership ratify the contract, it will then be submitted to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees for their signatures. That would officially conclude the current round of negotiations.
The GEO’s tentative agreement achieved gains across all four “pillars” of its original contract platform. In addition to winning protection for tuition waivers through the strike, the GEO secured an additional two weeks of unpaid parental leave, increases to the University’s contribution to health care premiums (reaching 75% in the third and final year of the contract), and raises on the minimum salary, totaling ten percent over three years. The GEO also forced the administration to drop their regressive contract proposals, including furloughs, “in-kind” payment, a recision of grievances related to discrimination, and a “scope of the agreement” clause that would have prevented the GEO from re-opening bargaining in the event of a change to employment conditions for graduate employees at UIUC.
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, stated in a letter of support for the UIUC GEO strike that “the AFT has long held that universities should provide tuition waivers as a condition of employment for graduate employees.” Increased security for tuition waivers is vital to the mission of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a public, land-grant institution. Tuition waivers are also central to the UIUC’s ability to remain competitive with other Big 10 and Research 1 institutions in that they are necessary to attract the highest level of graduate employee and student talent. On November 17, the Collective Bargaining Congress Executive Committee of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) stated that “a decision to eliminate tuition waivers in selected fields or for out of state students would…undermine the ability of the university to attract high quality graduate students in a wide range of fields.” The tentative agreement works to maintain UIUC’s competitiveness by giving the GEO increased ability to resist the apparent goal of the UIUC administration to erode tuition waivers at UIUC. As AAUP President and UIUC Professor of English Cary Nelson stated on November 16, given that the administration had already eliminated them for research assistants in the sciences, there was good reason to fear administration interest in cherry picking humanities or social science sub-disciplines for similar treatment.”
The tentative agreement between the GEO and Board of Trustees bargaining teams represents a major victory for labor in the state of Illinois and the United States. The timing of the GEO victory is especially sweet given that it falls during the “Education is NOT for $A￡€!” Global Week of Action, which is being organized from Germany and includes demonstrations and teach-ins across Europe, in Africa, and in the United States in support of public higher education. The GEO especially stands in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Illinois Chicago campus, whose negotiations with the Board of Trustees continue. The UIUC GEO also stands in solidarity with higher education labor unions in California, who will be engaging in a three day strike to resist major tuition hike for both undergraduate and graduate students. The GEO stands with higher education labor unions across the nation opposing the ongoing corporatization and privatization of our public higher education system. Public higher education must be accessible to all, regardless of economic standing.
The GEO is a labor union representing all teaching and graduate assistants (TAs and GAs) on the UIUC campus. With over 2600 GEO members, and over 2600 graduate employees represented in the bargaining unit, the GEO is one of the largest higher education union locals in the United States. The GEO strike is the first strike by a recognized union local at UIUC in over 10 years. Over 1,000 GEO members participated in the strike.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Peter Campbell, GEO Communications Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 253-222-5861, or the GEO office at email@example.com, 217-344-8283, 1001 S. Wright Street, Champaign, IL, 61820. Information about the GEO can also be found on our website at www.uigeo.org.