GEO co-president hopes talks with UI can resume this weekend

GEO co-president hopes talks with UI can resume this weekend

URBANA — Striking graduate assistants at the University of Illinois wrapped up five days of picketing Friday afternoon with talk of resumed negotiations in the works.

The Graduate Employees Organization announced Friday morning that it had sent a message to the university's bargaining team requesting a meeting.

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said UI negotiators received a call Friday morning from the federal mediator assigned to the contract talks, who conveyed that the GEO wanted to meet.

"Our team confirmed that we continue to be willing and able to meet and to get back into the process of negotiating an agreement," Kaler said.

She said the mediator asked specifically when UI negotiators would be available, and "we confirmed that our team could be available at any time, and we would make sure to have the necessary space available for the groups to meet."

GEO Co-President Gus Wood said he hoped the two sides could meet as early as this weekend.

"We want this strike to end. We need to be back teaching," he said.

"We're going to work really hard to see if we can get a deal done this weekend," he said.

But GEO leaders also pledged to resume the strike Monday if needed, noting that two dozen more assistants decided to join the strike Friday.

The strike, which began Monday, forced the cancellation of more than 250 classes this week, anywhere from 1.5 percent to 4.9 percent of the total offered each day, by the UI's count. Almost 250 others were moved to buildings that aren't being picketed, emptying some buildings around the Quad.

But the union and other faculty members say the total is much higher if it includes course sections of larger courses, as those are almost always taught by TAs. The campus is relying on reports from colleges and departments, and some units may not be reporting comprehensive numbers, they said.

Wood said the union put no conditions on its offer to get back to the negotiating table, other than "we actually have a productive meeting." He said the GEO walked out of the last session, on Sunday, because the university made clear "it had no intention of moving."

The union wants to preserve language in a 2009 side letter to the contract guaranteeing no changes in the university's tuition waiver policy. Graduate students who get at least a quarter-time teaching assistantship receive free tuition, a common practice at research universities.

The university has proposed changes giving it more flexibility to offer graduate programs without full tuition waivers — programs designed to be self-supporting and geared toward professional students, rather than traditional Ph.D. students.

Because of an ongoing drop in state funding, the campus has encouraged departments across campus to find new sources of income to help fund operations without forcing drastic cuts in academic programs. UI officials say the new income would help fund other tuition waivers.

The campus says it will guarantee all waivers currently held by graduate students and will continue to offer tuition waivers in all Ph.D. programs. But the GEO argues that there's nothing to stop the campus from reducing the number of assistantships, which would also hurt union membership. The GEO currently represents 2,700 graduate workers, out of roughly 11,600 graduate students.

The union had listed other demands Thursday, including a one-month notice for jobs, a 7.5 percent pay hike, a reduction in fees that support university infrastructure, resources for dependents of graduate employees, a stipend for child care, and to help pay for insurance coverage for dependents.

The UI has offered 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.

The campus would also cover 87 percent of a graduate employee's health insurance premium, up from 80 percent now.

On Friday, union members and their supporters marched around the south quad, near agriculture and business classroom buildings, then picketed most of the afternoon outside the College of Education on South Sixth Street, chanting and blowing vuvuzelas. They ended with a rally and a cake to mark their 200th day without a contract.

"I have to be honest, I'm tired. We've walked a lot this week," co-president Marilia Correa told the crowd of more than 150 people.

She told picketers to go home and "get some rest" over the weekend, and be ready to return on Monday "with everything we have. We'll stay out as long as it takes."

The strike is centered on the main UI Quad, where many undergraduate classes are normally held, with picketing at the English Building, Lincoln Hall, Gregory Hall, Altgeld Hall, Davenport Hall and the Foreign Languages Building.

But union members also picketed at an agricultural technology event at the I Hotel and Conference Center on Wednesday, and hundreds marched through the north quad, on the engineering campus, Thursday.

"We want to end this strike. It's so disruptive," especially to undergraduates, Wood said. "But we cannot get back in there if we know the university is going to take away a protection that we know hurts us as TAs and GAs but also departments across campus."

As it stands now

The Graduate Employees Organization represents about 2,700 teaching assistants on campus. According to the UI:

— They earn a minimum of $20.97 an hour and an average of $23.87 an hour, though they work only part-time.

— 69 percent hold a half-time assistantship, working 20 hours a week. They earn anywhere from $1,818 to $3,342 a month, or a minimum of $16,360 for a school year.

— They receive tuition waivers valued at $15,492 to $37,334, depending on their residency and academic program.

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Fred57 wrote on March 03, 2018 at 8:03 am

Looks like the Bernie-ANTIFA movement has come to UIUC, these are deplorable tactics designed to disrupt and create havoc for the undergrad students, basically, taking them as hostages until their demands are met.  They need to understand that they are students, not full time employees of the university.  Pay for your education like every one else does, work, save, take out loans.  Stop demanding that UI should increase the tuition for undergrad students to pay for your waivers.  These undergrad students and their families have worked very hard and made many sacrifices to become part of UI and you are assaulting them.

Fred57 wrote on March 03, 2018 at 9:03 am

To be clear, tuition revenue pays for faculty salaries and other operational expenses, if you are giving out all of these lavish tuition waivers, $20/hr part time pay rate, and Cadillac Healthcare benefit to grad students, then where is the money coming from to make up for this?... undergrad tuition, the highest for public schools in the nation.

Lostinspace wrote on March 03, 2018 at 9:03 am

Tuition waivers and stipends are a gift to the faculty:  they provide graduate students to teach and they free them from  much undergraduate teaching.

They are not a gift to graduate students, who can teach three courses a year (four for the faculty), with class preparation, homework correction, exam grading, and office hours, in addition to reading and studying for their own courses.  All this for as little as $16,400 a year.

Illiniwek66 wrote on March 03, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Really?  They teach three courses a year (actually NOT a year, as school is only 9 months long) for $16K a year.  So, no value placed on the free education they're getting?  No value placed on the fact that they only work part time (three classes is not a full time job).  No value on the health insurance the the U is offering to pay 87% of?  You could also read the stats above and add $35K to that $16K figure and say they're getting paid $51K for 9 months work, which is $68K a year.  Plus, they are learning so that their future earnings are much, much higher.  

Along with your humuorous math is the idea of a "co-president."  Ever watched the tv series "The Office?"  They satarized corporate offices, and had the silly idea at one point of co-managers.  If they tried it in Scranton, you know it must be a good idea.  Must be why we have co-governors and co-chairmen throughout our nation's governing bodies.

Really, if you want to argue for the union, you really need to start with facts that are not so obviously biased and blatantly false.


Lostinspace wrote on March 03, 2018 at 1:03 pm

OK, add about a thousand for health insurance.

The education is not free: thsy are working professionals who save the university millions by teaching many students for very little money, relative to the cost of hiring full-time faculty.

You are anti-union.  Fine.  I am thinking of getting by on that stipend, perhaps with a family to support.  If the University were thinking in those term and acting accordingly (instead of agreeing with you by and large), there would be no need for a union.

And, speaking of arithmetic, students will be delighted to know that they are making the equivalent tens of thousands of dollars

Robert Canine wrote on March 03, 2018 at 12:03 pm

According to the article, they're working half-time for an average rate of $23.87/hour, or the equiavelent of a 48K per year salary!  Add to that the tuition waiver, which can be as much as $37K/year.  Add to that the health insurance benefit, which appears to be about $4K/year. For a total of ... wait for it ... $89,000/year! Good grief, they're making an annual equivalent more than double what the average American makes, and they have the audacity and ingratitude to complain that they're not paid enough?  I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose, since this is exactly what unions do, and how they do it. By the way, are they being paid for the time that they're spending skipping work, marching around campus blowing whistles and beating on pails, and generally acting like fools?  I would hope not.  They should be  getting fired, not admired.  At the very least, they should be getting tagged for future replacement.

SparkleStar wrote on March 03, 2018 at 4:03 pm

I am writing to share with you the University of Illinois’ strong concerns regarding H.R. 4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, which was reported out by the House Education and Workforce Committee in December. Although we support efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), the PROSPER Act would make higher education less accessible and less affordable.

The PROSPER Act Would Slash Aid for Graduate Students With over 27,000 graduate and professional students, the University of Illinois is providing the human capital and highly skilled workforce that our state needs, while advancing scientific discoveries, technological advances and practical problem-solving that address the most pressing national and global needs. Accordingly, we are disappointed that the PROSPER Act would make graduate education more expensive for many students. By making graduate students ineligible for federal work-study funds, eliminating Grad PLUS loans, and capping graduate lending, including for medical students, the bill would place a graduate education out of reach for too many. Students across the University of Illinois System received $77.1 million in Grad PLUS loans in FY 2017.

happyhero wrote on March 04, 2018 at 6:03 am

Both sides need to start focusing on the group they are hurting the most: students. These kids (and/or their parents) saved, borrowed, and worked very hard to pay faculty and staff for an education.

Families are being held hostage by TAs who are more concerned about their own wellbeing than the students. I have read disconcerting and unethical emails from TAs related to this strike. As far as I'm concerned, TAs are students who also work part time. You are not full time working professionals. Have you ever worked continuous 90 hour work weeks (excluding research or study time) while also supporting a family?

Faculty and university administration rely too heavily on TAs because some faculty are receiving bloated salaries, and this university constantly finds new ways to waste tuition dollars on unnecessary travel and other expenses. You are all aware of the waste, but do nothing about it. This needs to change.

This university - all of you - should be ashamed of the impact you are having on students who are here to study and learn to be smarter and to improve themselves. Students are not receiving what they are paying for - a proper education!

Quit your arguing and get back to work educating these kids. They are paying your salaries. Students must be the priority. Without them, you would all be out of your jobs. As far as I'm concerned, both sides are wrong.

Lefty wrote on March 05, 2018 at 10:03 am

I was a graduate student in the early 2000s. I was thrilled with the tuition waiver PLUS the $500 a month stipend I received for my appointment. I don't know why these students expect any more than that. 

SparkleStar wrote on March 05, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Taken for Granted: Labor Unions and Postdoc DisputesAn official relationship

Although not acquainted with Canovas's case, UMass postdoc Caleb Rounds believes that settling grievances is one of the most important reasons that UMass postdocs needed to unionize. Describing himself as a "rank and file member" of the new postdoc union, PRO/UAW, Rounds has previous experience with membership in a UMass union. He earned his Ph.D. in plant biology on the same Amherst campus where he now works and where graduate students are already represented by a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers (UAW).

In addition to organizing the UMass postdocs in Amherst, Boston, and Dartmouth, that million-member, AFL-CIO-affiliated national union earlier organized the postdocs of the University of California system into a statewide union called PRO/UAW (PRO stands for Postdoctoral Researchers Organize). The new UMass union is separate from its California counterpart but has adopted the same name. The postdocs on UMass's Worcester campus did not participate in the organizing campaign but can petition to join UMass PRO/UAW if a majority indicates that preference. The postdocs on the fifth UMass campus, in Lowell, already have representation through a different union, Local 888 of the Service Employees International Union. They belong to a unit for various types of grant-funded employees rather than a separate unit for postdocs.

"When you're a [unionized] grad student, if you don't get along with your PI, you have a relationship with the university, ... an official relationship," Rounds says. "There's an ombudsman. But as a [nonunionized] postdoc, if you have a bad relationship with your PI, you can just be fired. They don't have to give you any warning.

"I've known several grad students who didn't make it in their first lab" on his campus, where grad students are unionized, Rounds continues. Those grad students were "given the opportunity to find another lab. It's not like your paycheck and your health insurance stop." But get fired as a nonunionized postdoc, he says, "and you're done." You're "not going to get a recommendation" -- a potential career-killer. "If you have a capricious PI, you have no recourse. ... Anything can happen, and you've got nowhere to go."

Rounds emphasizes that in his experience, PIs are generally "very professional" in their relationships with postdocs. But, he says, personality and other conflicts sometimes arise, making effective grievance procedures essential to protecting postdocs' rights.

SparkleStar wrote on March 05, 2018 at 11:03 pm

Tuition Waivers

Current Side letter

During the term of this Agreement (August 16, 2012 to August 15, 2017), Graduate Assistants and Teaching Assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced while they hold qualifying assistantships, are in good academic standing, and are making proper progress toward graduation in the program in which they began.

Final paragraph of the most recent side letter proposed by the University

“All doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree programs will continue to grant tuition waivers. The University will guarantee funding to those students enrolled in a Ph.D. graduate program for a period of five (5) academic years provided that they (1) held a University provided tuition-waiver generating assistantship or fellowship throughout the first year (of the five year period) of their enrollment in that program, (2) remain enrolled in that same program, (3) continue to satisfactorily perform the duties of their assistantships, (4) maintain good academic standing, and (5) continue to make appropriate progress towards obtaining their degree.  The funding provided during that time period may take a variety of forms within the discretion of the University, including tuition-waiver generating graduate assistantships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, pre-professional assistantships, and fellowships.

Consequeces of most recent side letter proposed by the University.

  • Many Ph.D. programs require more than five years to complete. Those students would not be guaranteed a tuition waiver following their fifth year.
  • The new side letter restricts tuition waivers only to Ph.D. students. All other degrees, including existing terminal degrees (Dance MFA, Landscape Architecture MLA, Art Education EDM, Music DMA, and all Education EDM) would not have a guaranteed tuition waiver.
  • Many doctoral programs require admission and completion of an academic Masters program prior to admission to the doctoral program. These students would not be guaranteed tuition waivers while they are in the Masters program.
  • Many students do not receive an assistantship or fellowship in their first year of the Ph.D. These students would not be guaranteed tuition waivers if they are hired as TAs or GAs in subsequent years.