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GEO continue to strike for tuition waiver security

The Graduate Employee’s Organization began its strike over tuition waiver security on Monday. As a result, participating GEO members picketed buildings and withheld all of their labor, including teaching, grading and contact with students in their classes.

“The English Building, Davenport Hall, the Foreign Languages Building and Gregory Hall are all designated as ‘struck’ buildings for the duration of the strike,” GEO communications officer Peter Campbell said in an e-mail.

According to a press release sent out by Campbell, approximately 1,000 graduate employees were present throughout the first day of picketing.

“It’s a really confusing issue, and I think that’s part of the challenge,” University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said. “I think that the University and the GEO might be saying something very similar but wording it differently. What we’re hoping to do tomorrow is to be able to try to say the same thing and express that shared intent that we have. If we can succeed in that, I think we can get to a very good place.”

There were also GEO allies from other Universities present to help the GEO in their picketing.

Amber Cooper, a member of the University of Michigan’s GEO, said she and others from the group came to support tuition waiver security for graduate students.

“The grad students in all the Big Ten schools have tuition waivers, and it’s freaking ridiculous that the grad students here would have them threatened,” she said. “We’re all out here in support because this is just wrong. The University needs to give them their tuition waivers immediately in their contract.”

The University and GEO bargaining teams were unable to negotiate a contract at their latest bargaining session, which was held at Willard Airport on Nov. 14.

The GEO accepted a roughly three percent increase in wages per year, which amounts to nearly 10 percent over the three year contract period, according to a University press release. However, there is still an issue over out-of-state tuition waivers.

According to the release sent out by Campbell, in the Nov 14. bargaining session, the administration was offered a side letter that stated the GEO would be given the option of negotiating changes to the Board of Trustees Governing Policy on tuition waivers.

“This policy, however, is limited to in-state tuition waivers, while most members of the GEO bargaining unit receive out-of-state tuition waivers,” Campbell said.

“Consequently, the administration side letter provides almost no protection for the existing tuition waivers at UIUC.”

Interim Provost and Chancellor Robert Easter sent out an e-mail to all students and faculty Monday that said graduate students with assistantships will not have their tuition waivers reduced while at the University.

As long as graduates are in good academic standing and make progress toward graduation, their wavers will remain secure.

In the release, Campbell said Easter’s massmail was misleading because the current University contract would allow the administration to potentially invalidate tuition waivers for graduate students.

“In fact, the administration attempted to do this in late 2008,” he said in the release.

“All that the GEO is seeking is the ability to bargain any such future attempts at change to overall existing policy in the future.”

Kaler said the University is optimistic that the dispute will be resolved soon.

“The University has wording that guarantees tuition waiver,” she said. “I think that the intent of what the GEO is concerned about and the intent of what the University is trying to do is the same thing. We’re trying to come up with wording that everyone feels comfortable with. If we can do that, I think we can solve this.”

The GEO strike will continue Tuesday at 8 a.m. Another bargaining session between the GEO and University is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Levis Faculty Center.

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