GEO files labor charge against UI

The University Graduate Employees’ Organization filed an unfair labor practice charge against the University last week after some employees came forward with complaints about not receiving their paychecks or tuition waivers.

Natalye Tate, co-president of GEO and graduate student, said she is one of more than 30 graduate assistants who were not paid by the Sept. 16 payday. Tate said she went to the graduate college fellowship office several times before receiving her paycheck Wednesday. She said the only information she was given was that the office was behind in processing the appointments.

“As someone who depends upon their paycheck every month, that was unfortunate for me to hear,” she said.

As a result, the GEO filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board against the University last week.

Tate said she is also one of many graduate student employees whose tuition waiver was delayed at the start of the school year. This caused many graduate students to have to take out emergency, short-term loans from the Office of Student Financial Aid, which must be paid back within 30 days. “Some people were forced to take these loans out several weeks ago,” Tate said. “Therefore, if they haven’t been paid yet, they are coming up on the deadline to actually pay back the loan that they had to take out because they never received their waivers.”

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said in an email that there are many reasons for delays in an employee’s pay. Prospective employees must sign I-9 employment eligibility verification forms to complete the new-hire process, and the department employing the student must input the data into the system. In addition to thousands of faculty, academic professionals and civil service workers, there are 5,400 graduate assistant jobs that must be added every August. Kaler said because of the size of the organization, some appointments do not get processed, but the University has a system for correcting those issues.

“As soon as we learn of a specific problem, we work to correct it,” Kaler said in the email. “We apply appointments daily and run pay adjustments weekly. The same is true for tuition waivers.”

She added that questions or concerns about an appointment should be directed to Karen McLaughlin, assistant director of labor and employee relations, at Academic Human Resources.

According to a press release from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, conflicts between the GEO and University administration have been going on since fall 2009. At the time, graduate student employees went on strike to ensure they would receive tuition waivers. The strike ended when administration signed a side letter to the contract.

But Tate said the administration violated the contract soon after. The incident was presented to a third-party arbitrator, who ruled on behalf of the GEO. The release, however, says the administration has since “refused to take the actions ordered by the arbitrator and continues to violate the ‘side letter.’”

The GEO, which represents over 2,300 graduate assistants at the University, is now taking the University administration to court, Tate said. She said issues regarding tuition waivers will be heard by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board on Oct. 18.

Lauren can be reached at [email protected]