GEO marches on for higher wages

The Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) held a rally Wednesday to inform the campus of their struggle to negotiate a new labor contract with the University.

The group gathered on the main Quad and marched to the Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St. where the tenth meeting between the GEO and the University about the contract took place. About 250 people attended the rally.

Peter Campbell, communications officer for the GEO, said his group staged the rally to show their resilience and determination.

“The real work of bargaining takes place outside the bargaining room,” Campbell said. “We need to demonstrate that we are committed to getting a fair contract.”

Campbell said a fair amount of non-University citizens, undergraduates and faculty members attended.

“The rally was an overwhelming success,” Campbell said. “We sent the UIUC administration a strong message that these wages are not acceptable.”

Other local organizations joined the GEO, including Campus Labor Coalition, Jobs With Justice, the Campus Faculty Association and the International Socialist Organization.

Eric Heim, junior in LAS and member of the Campus Antiwar Network and the International Socialists Organization, said he attended because as a socialist he is interested in laborer’s rights.

“We are trying to put pressure on the University,” Heim said. “This is an issue of justice.”

The GEO has been negotiating with the University since April, saying that graduate students are underpaid for the services they provide. About 58 percent of half-time teaching assistants make less than the estimated cost of living for the Champaign-Urbana area, which is $15,474 per year, according to the Office of Student Financial Aid.

Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman, said budget constraints will not allow them to increase wages at this time.

During the meeting the two groups sat in separate rooms while a government employee mediated between them, Campbell said.

“The fact that a negotiator was brought in represents how far apart the two (contract) proposals are,” he added. “Still, I am optimistic that he can help with the negotiations.”

However, after four hours of debate, no real progress was made, Campbell said.

Though the GEO has allies in the community, there are some within the organization that are not as adamant and involved in the contract negotiations.

Andrew Stevens, graduate student, said he is not so concerned with the contract talk because engineering teaching assistants, like him, are paid slightly more than the average assistant.

Nathan Fredrickson, teaching assistant, said he is detached from the issue.

“I feel they’re always struggling with this,” Fredrickson said. “Everyone knows you’re paid very little as a TA. I’m grateful to have what little I have.”

Campbell said he acknowledges that there are dissenters within his organization, but the group does a good job of representing the collective wants of its members.

“I’ve heard responses saying some members aren’t happy. But the University wants to freeze our wages, and members wouldn’t want that,” Campbell said. “We have a diverse group, and I feel we democratically represent the organization well.”