GEO protests UI’s COVID-19 rules

GEO+members+protest+outside+of+the+Swanlund+Administration+Building+on+Wednesday.+The+protest+was+in+response+to+the+Universitys+policy+on+lifting+mask+mandate.+

Sidney Malone

GEO members protest outside of the Swanlund Administration Building on Wednesday. The protest was in response to the University’s policy on lifting mask mandate.

By Thomas DeMouy, Vivian La, and Willie Cui

The Graduate Employees Organization protested this morning in response to the University’s changes to campus mask rules on Feb. 28.

According to Owen MacDonald, communications officer for the GEO, the University did not seriously consider the GEO’s concerns in the bargaining process.

GEO members protest at Swanlund Administration Building starting at 6:30 a.m., leading up to their bargaining session with University administration.

In front of the building, around half a dozen GEO members stood in front of the building’s entrance, blocking access, and down by the steps of the building on the sidewalk, GEO members had set up a table and a canopy.

Off to the side, around a dozen GEO members marched on the sidewalk with signs criticizing the University’s decision to end its mask mandate by the 28th.

According to MacDonald, the University police arrived around 7 a.m. and threatened to arrest those who blocked access to the building.

In an email statement, Robin Kaler, University spokesperson, said that a University staff member was kicked and shoved by GEO protestors.

We have expressed to the GEO leadership our belief that the actions of this morning represent unacceptable behavior, and we sincerely hope that they will take steps to prevent any similar future incidents,” Kaler said.

Kaler said disagreeing with University decisions is everyone’s right, but battering individuals and blocking access to facilities will not be tolerated.

MacDonald said the GEO is aware of the allegations but states that no battery occurred.

Patrick Wade, the communications director for University Police, stated in an email that police told the demonstrators that they could continue with the protest, but it is unlawful to block a person’s movement. 

“Upon speaking with the witnesses, police learned that the demonstrators had made physical contact with at least two (University) employees who attempted to enter the building,” Wade said. 

According to Wade, the incidents involving physical contact are under investigation. 

The GEO is demanding that the University provide safe testing policies, access to high-quality N95 or KN95 masks for all campus workers, and an extension of the indoor mask mandate, according to the UIUC GEO website.

For the past two years, the GEO has also demanded a contact tracing and exposure notification system that alerts teaching assistants and staff if they have been exposed to a student who has tested positive for COVID-19, but a system like this has not been implemented. 

Owens brought up the independent contact tracing system used by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“We think that there’s nothing preventing that from working here,” MacDonald said.

Post updated on Feb. 25 at 3:11 p.m.

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