Graduate student workers could go on strike


Brian Bauer

Christina De Angelo, instructor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, speaks at the Graduate Employees’ Organization protest in front of the Swanlund Administration Building on Thursday.

By Olivia Welshans, Staff Writer

Prolonged negotiations between the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) and the University administration for a fair contract have raised tensions across campus.

The GEO, the official union for graduate employees at the University, has been bargaining with the Administration since their first session on March 30, and still no new contract has been agreed upon.

Some advances to the contract have been made since the beginning of October.

Maria Garth, communications officer, said in an email the GEO recently signed a “tentative” agreement on their Grievance Procedure and Health and Safety articles. However, she said “big-ticket” financial items like wages and healthcare have yet to be agreed upon.

According to the GEO’s online petition for supporting their contract, the GEO’s proposals for the contract include full tuition waivers for graduate employees, fee waivers for all student fees, affordable healthcare, subsidies for childcare and better access to related resources and significantly improved wages.

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Garth said the contract proposals the GEO suggested are not unreasonable when compared to the contracts of other universities’ GEOs.

“We did extensive research to make sure all our proposals were fair, affordable and in-line with what grad employees at our peer institutions had,” Garth said.  

Garth said the proposals have been modeled off of or copied from the contracts of other Big Ten Universities. Also, the GEO found graduate employees at the University of Illinois have a lower salary than graduate employees at the University of Iowa, despite Iowa’s cost of living being lower than Urbana-Champaign’s. The University’s GEO is also asking for less of a childcare subsidy than the GEO at the University of Michigan, Garth said.

On Oct. 26, the GEO organized a picket line, sit-in protest and rally at the Swanlund Administration Building. At the time of the protests the GEO had been 72 days without a contract.

Nick Goodell, junior in LAS and member of the Undergraduate-Graduate Alliance, was one of the speakers included in the rally and spoke on how the results of the contract could affect the education of undergraduates.

“The working conditions of graduate employees on campus are our learning conditions,” Goodel said.

In the event of a strike, Garth said entire sections of the campus could be shut down and University activity halted. As graduate employees drop their work to join picket lines, students will suffer, she said. Grading will not be done and classes will not meet as scheduled.  

Garth also said the GEO will not be alone when they choose to go on strike and will be supported by other campus unions and community members.

“Allies in the Campus Faculty Association, Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition, Service Employees International, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the undergraduate population, and general campus community will join us on the picket line,” Garth said.

According to the GEO at UIUC website, a vote passing in favor of a strike will not necessarily mean the union will go on strike. The vote will serve to influence the decision of the Strike Committee to make that decision “if necessary.”

Results of the vote and logistics of a strike, if that is what is decided, will be announced to GEO members on Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Channing Murray Foundation.

During the rally, one fact was emphasized over and over by several speakers, including Goodell.

“The GEO does not want to strike, but members are willing to do so as a last-resort effort of self-defense against the administration,” Goodell said.

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