UPDATE: Striking GEO's noon rally draws a crowd (w/ video)

UPDATE: Striking GEO's noon rally draws a crowd (w/ video)

UPDATE, noon Monday:

URBANA — Hundreds gathered outside Foellinger Auditorium on the Quad for a noon rally by the striking University of Illinois Graduate Employees Organization after a morning of picket lines and chants.

Undergraduate students also joined the ranks of strikers Monday.

“For almost 11 months, the GEO have been fighting for a fair contract,” organizer Nick Goodell said through a bullhorn. “We’re here for a real logical reason. Essentially, the university wants graduate students to pay to work here.”

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UPDATE, 11 a.m. Monday:

URBANA — At the Loomis Laboratory of Physics, classrooms are half-empty and faculty are teaching classes normally headed by some of the TAs and GAs on strike.

Physics professors are meeting with students in a “help room” on the first floor to continue to provide assistance on assignments for students who would otherwise go to a teaching assistant for help. This was communicated to students last night via email.

Ross Giannetta, professor of physics at the laboratory, said he is dedicating extra hours to help students.

He emphasized, though, that professors would not be doing work that some of the protesting graduate students would normally do, like reading sessions and other extracurricular help.

He added that if the strike continues, he’ll have to teach a class tomorrow that he normally wouldn’t.

“I’m hired to teach the class, so I’ll do that,” Giannetta said. “All of you want it to be over. And for me, hopefully, that means a win for the grad students. They are worth vastly more than all the admins put together.”

— Adalberto Toledo

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UPDATE, 10 a.m. Monday:

URBANA — GEO picket lines are thick with participation. Co-President Gus Wood, who is acting as strike captain, said turnout was more than expected and now the GEO is organizing more picket lines.

“We’re getting so many people joining in,” Wood said. “It’s a beautiful day. We were expecting a lot of support, but this is more than I expected.”

Wood estimates there are about 1,000 people currently participating in campus-wide protests.

“We have so many people at this point that we want the whole university to know that it’s not just people who go to class on the main Quad that are affected,” Wood said. “It’s affecting other quads, too.”

— Adalberto Toledo

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UPDATE, 9 a.m. Monday:

URBANA — Early Monday on the Quad, pathways usually filled with students heading to class were mostly empty.

Outside some of the main classroom buildings, graduate students formed picket lines in a strike after a nearly yearlong negotiation with the university fell apart over the weekend, with tuition waivers the main sticking point.

Some students had their classes cancelled; others had classes moved to buildings outside the Quad.
English sophomore Rachel Finegold said she would not be attending her English classes in solidarity with teaching assistants she’s had in the past.

“It is inconvenient, but that’s the point,” she said. “Hopefully they can get this resolved soon and they can get what they’ve asked for.”

Notes written in chalk on the Quad urge students to walk out at noon and head to Foellinger Auditorium, where the GEO and undergraduate-graduate alliance are to hold a rally.

Messages include “Which side are you on?” “Hell hath no fury like a Union scorned” and “Would you work for virtually free? Defend tuition waivers!”

— Adalberto Toledo

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Original story, published 7 a.m. Monday:

CHAMPAIGN — After last-ditch negotiations Sunday failed to produce a breakthrough, members of the University of Illinois Graduate Employees Organization planned to go on strike at 8 this morning.

It's unclear how long the walkout will last or how many classes could be canceled as a result of the strife between the campus and its graduate assistants. A similar strike in 2009 lasted only two days.

The GEO, and the approximately 2,700 graduate student employees it represents, agreed Sunday to the strike following 11 months of unsuccessful bargaining with UI administrators.

Among the main sticking points is a disagreement over tuition waivers.

"The administration's refusal to negotiate in good faith over wages and tuition waivers has left graduate workers no choice but to withhold our labor," union spokesperson Ashli Anda said.

GEO co-president Gus Wood told The News-Gazette there was "absolutely no movement" during daylong talks Sunday.

Some 200 people turned out at the UI Fire Service Institute late Sunday afternoon for a rally to kick off the strike.

"We came today saying we were willing to avoid a strike," Wood said Sunday. "We said we wanted to have an emergency bargaining session. Not only did they not make any movement from Friday night, but when we asked them if they had anything for us (Sunday) at all, they said they weren't giving us anything else (Sunday). They basically gave up on negotiations today and forced a strike starting at 8 a.m. Monday."

Picketing today is expected to be concentrated on the Quad, where many undergraduate classes are held, and support from humanities and social sciences departments is strong. Another rally has been called for noon today in front of Foellinger Auditorium.

In a statement issued early Sunday evening, Provost Andreas Cangellaris said the UI's "top priority" was to "protect the academic experiences of our undergraduate students. We are taking the necessary steps to minimize the disruption of instruction, to ensure course objectives are met and to ensure timely grading."

Cangellaris went on to express disappointment in the GEO's decision to end talks Sunday.

"Throughout this process, the university has negotiated in good faith, and we have put forward proposals that have been respectful of and responsive to the publicly stated priorities of the GEO negotiators," Cangellaris said. "Our current proposals on the remaining bargaining issues demonstrate significant movement to address the issues the GEO has said are most important to them."

Cangellaris said the UI's proposal "guarantees tuition waivers for bargaining unit members, offers clear protections of the value of those waivers throughout a student's academic career here and was adjusted to remove language about eligibility that the GEO said was cause for concern."

He said the UI is offering a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage over the life of the agreement and a 3 percent increase in the first year for reappointed students.

"They have said health insurance support was a priority," Cangellaris said. "Our offer would cover 87 percent of a graduate employee's premium."

He said the current contract only provides for an 80 percent employer contribution to the graduate employee's premium.

What the UI offered wasn't enough to satisfy the graduate assistants.

"We have been without a contract for 195 days," strike captain Jennifer Jones said Sunday. "We have been bargaining with the university for almost 11 months now. We are fighting for protection for tuition waivers. We're fighting for financial stability for grad employees at this university."

— Tim Mitchell

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GLG wrote on February 26, 2018 at 8:02 am

Look for the U of I to offer a 1 or 1.5%  raise to these people!   The U of I spends millions of dollars a year on everything but the people that keep this place going!

Does anyone remember the story a few weeks ago about the hundreds of employees making in excess of $200.000.00 a year?  The GEO deserves better, They are the ones doing the teaching while many of these overpaid professors are setting at home writing their books and papers for profit while on the U of I's dime. Many of these professors couldn't find their offices with a map!  Put these GEO folks under the control of the athletic dept, They seem to have plenty of money for scholarships and salaries, How much does Lovie Smith make?

JamBam wrote on February 26, 2018 at 9:02 am

Liberals striking against their fellow liberals makes me laugh.    If the U of I was ran like a legit business, they'd hold firm and break the union.  Bottomline is if they cave on tuition waivers for these grad students, then they'll end up making the money back thru raising the tuition on the rest of the students.  Seems simple to me. If you don't want what the Illinois is offering you as a grad student, then don't enroll. 

UIUCGradStudent wrote on February 26, 2018 at 1:02 pm
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Like all workers, graduate employees deserve a living wage. The GEO has my full support.

CommonSenseless wrote on February 27, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Define living wage...they already make >$20/hr