GEO committee suspends strike

The Graduate Employees’ Organization strike committee voted unanimously to suspend its strike at a general membership meeting Tuesday evening.

The decision came after the GEO and University bargaining teams reached a tentative contract agreement Tuesday during the second day of the GEO’s strike over tuition waiver security.

Around 450 GEO members voted to accept the tentative agreement, said Peter Campbell, GEO communications officer.

Teaching assistants return to called Wednesday and a coordinating committee will meet to call for a two-day contract ratification vote, said Rich Potter, member of the GEO strike committee. He said the committee will likely call the vote before Saturday.

Potter said there must be a majority based on the number of voting members to accept the tentative contract.

Campbell added that the strike will fully come to a close when the GEO accepts the tentative contract.

In the three year contract, tuition waivers will not be reduced for graduate and teaching assistants who have qualifying assistantships, make progress toward graduation in the program they started in, and are in good academic standing, said Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman, in a press release. The contract is effective retroactive to August 2009.

“We explained what we do, and it’s in writing in a side note on the contract,” she added. “We certainly are happy, and we value the work they do.”

That means that graduates will receive $13,840 in the first year of the contract, $14,250 in the second year and $14,820 in the third year.

They also agreed to increased student health insurance fee subsidies. Graduates will receive a 65 percent subsidy in the first year of the contract and 75 percent in the second and third years.

On Saturday, the bargaining teams agreed to increased minimum stipends for graduates with 50 percent appointments, who work 20 hours a week for 9 months a calendar year.

According to a press release from the GEO, the organization “forced the administration to drop regressive contract proposals” that included furloughs and other items. However, Campbell added that Tuesday’s agreement contained significant compromises from the group’s original proposal.

Kerry Pimblott, lead negotiator for the GEO, said the organization made some concessions, but added she is confident that tuition waivers will be secure.

“The language basically says there will be no change to the ongoing tuition waiver policy,” she said. “If violated, we can grieve it.”

Campbell said that if the tentative contract is ratified, the “material conditions of graduate students will improve.”

He said that the result of the strike and negotiations is “unquestionably a win for the GEO,” but added that he is happy to be going back to classes soon.

“We’re here for education,” he said. “We’re passionate about it.”

In a University press release, Interim Provost and Chancellor Robert Easter said the contract agreement is a best-case scenario in light of the University’s budget situation.

“We feel this tentative agreement represents the best possible contract given the financial constraints we face,” he said.

After the strike was suspended, members of the GEO met with the Undergraduate-Graduate Alliance to discuss students’ reaction and how strikes can be better conducted in the future. Some undergraduates stressed the importance of educating students about the events of a strike, including giving them a clearer definition of picketing and what it means to cross a picket line.

Pete Rhomberg, senior in LAS, said he was excited for the strike’s end.

“I think what the GEO won is great, and I think if I was a grad student and from what I know of it, I would have accepted (the contract),” Rhomberg said. “I think they conceded on the right things.”