GEO strikes after latest talk fails

The Graduate Employees’ Organization held a rally at 7:45 a.m. that lasted until 8 a.m. when the strike began. Kerry Pimblott, graduate student and lead negotiator for the GEO, gave a speech to the crowd. The buildings being picketed are the English Building, Davenport, Gregory, and the Foreign Language Building.

In a bargaining session between the University and GEO Saturday that lasted six hours, both sides were able to reach an agreement on all aspects of a contract except for tuition waiver security. As a result, the GEO rejected the University’s latest proposal.

According to a press release from the University, “the GEO strike committee has chosen to strike over an issue that historically has never been a source of contention between the union and management, and about which there is no indication would be a source of contention in the future.”

The University’s latest proposal sought to increase the minimum stipend for graduate students who work 20 hours a week nine months out of the year and increase the student health insurance fee subsidies. The proposal also wanted to create a parental accommodation period following the birth or initial adoption of a child, offer protection against changes to the Board of Trustees’ tuition waiver policy for graduate assistants and grant the right to bargain over any changes to that policy, according to the University’s press release.

“We absolutely are agreeing to the continuation of the current tuition policy,” said Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman. “We are agreeing that if we would ever change the current tuition policy, we wouldn’t do that without first bargaining such changes with the Union.”

The GEO wants protection waivers mentioned in the contract which are not being offered by the administration, said Peter Campbell, communications officer for the GEO.

There was an agreement to drop proposals that would have created contract language recognizing the University’s right to furlough graduate assistants and limit the GEO’s ability to engage in impact bargaining during the term of the agreement.

“What we would like is explicit protection for tuition waivers in the contract itself, and that has not been offered by the administration,” said Campbell.

According to an e-mail sent by Interim Provost Robert Easter Nov. 15, the the university has no plans to change current policy on tuition waivers.

“The university community is committed to providing the most competitive tuition waivers possible.”

The University’s press release reminded faculty and non-GEO staff that they are expected to perform their job duties as usual during the strike.

“Students who have paid tuition have reason to expect that classes will take place as usual, and it is the University’s intention to honor that promise,” the press release stated.

Saturday’s session was the 19th set of bargaining sessions between the University and the GEO. According to the press release, the University made approximately two dozen separate offers throughout the bargaining process before reaching the final offer that was ultimately rejected.

If teaching and graduate assistants choose to work, they will be paid as usual, the release stated. However, employees who elect not to work cannot be paid.

Interim Provost Robert Easter sent out an e-mail on Nov. 9 to all administration members and faculty which conveyed the University’s hopes for the strike’s outcome.

“We hope assistants will respect their instructional obligations and not impair students’ progress in their current courses. The campus will monitor the situation closely and assess options for dealing with any disruption that might occur to minimize the harm which a work stoppage would cause.”

The members of the GEO will take the University’s offers to a vote again Tuesday night.

UI, GEO agree on:

  • Increase the minimum stipend for graduate students who work 20 hours a week nine months out of the year
  • Increase the student health insurance fee subsidies
  • Create a parental accommodation period following the birth or initial adoption of a child
  • Grant the right to bargain over any changes to that policy

UI, GEO disagree on:

  • Offer protection against changes to the Board of Trustees’ tuition waiver policy for graduate assistants