NEW: 'I think it is a fair agreement,' UI provost says of deal with GEO

NEW: 'I think it is a fair agreement,' UI provost says of deal with GEO

Updated 2:45 p.m.

URBANA — Striking graduate assistants rallied outside Foellinger Auditorium on Thursday to celebrate news of a tentative contract agreement with the University of Illinois.

The deal was announced late Thursday morning after a marathon overnight bargaining session.

“We got our two biggest priorities related to addressing financial stability and guaranteed tuition waivers” for teaching assistants and graduate assistants, said Gus Wood, co-president of the Graduate Employees Organization. “We are super excited about that.”

No details were released. A two-day ratification vote for union members was scheduled for later Thursday and Friday afternoon.

The two sides had been at odds over language on tuition wavers, wages and other issues. Union members are in the 11th day of a strike.

“I think it is a fair agreement,” said Provost Andreas Cangellaris, who was up all night getting updates from UI negotiators at the Fire Services Institute. “I feel good about it.”

“I have to give credit to both sides. They were fully engaged, very careful and diligent in their conversations. I think they need to be congratulated for staying the course,” he said. “I’m delighted we’re here, and I look forward to bringing this to a closure.”

Wood said the language on tuition waivers changed significantly from the UI’s last proposal, but he declined to elaborate.

“The university made significant movement that we as a bargaining team felt comfortable enough to take to our membership,” Wood said.

The UI had been seeking more flexibility with tuition waivers as it develops more self-supporting programs where students pay partial or full tuition. The union wanted to keep language guaranteeing no changes in tuition waiver policy, fearing the UI would reduce the number given out.

Cangellaris said only that negotiators addressed the tuition waiver issue in a “very constructive and thoughtful way.”

Chanting “GEO!” about 100 union members and supporters cheered when strike captain Jennifer Jones announced the news of the agreement at Thursday’s rally.

“I’m extremely relieved,” said anthropology graduate student Amanda Butler, standing on the Quad with her sleeping bag after a two-night occupation of the UI president’s office. “I want nothing more than to get back to my students and teaching and finish writing my dissertation.”

GEO members had started picketing as usual at 8 a.m. Thursday, but the union suspended picketing once the deal was announced around 11 a.m. following a 26-hour bargaining session. Union members also ended their campout at the Henry building and at a conference room in the chancellor’s office at the Swanlund Administration Building.

But union leaders said the strike is technically still on until after the vote. If the agreement is ratified, TAs will return to work Monday. If not, they’ll be back on the picket lines, Jones said.

Negotiators for the university and the union started the latest bargaining session at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The two sides had been negotiating for about a year.

Graduate teaching assistants, who cover a large share of UI classes, walked off the job Feb. 26.

The strike has forced the cancellation of several hundred classes and prompted instructors to move hundreds of others to buildings away from the UI’s main Quad so students and faculty didn’t have to cross picket lines. Professors took over some classes usually taught by TAs, and in some cases converting them to online lectures.

Some undergraduates coming out of class at Foellinger Auditorium on Thursday shouted “GEO!” when they saw the rally. Others said they were happy to hear the strike might be ending.

Senior Philip Knight, a senior in mechanical engineering, said the strike hadn’t really disrupted his classes, other than discussion sections with teaching assistants. And one of his TAs who was helping him with a design project went on strike.

“We’ve had to rely more on our professor, but he’s super busy,” he said. “I’m happy they’re back to work.”

Music Professor Adam Kruse, who performed at Thursday’s rally, thanked the union for its efforts.

“This was nothing short of a fight for the soul of our university,” he said, adding “it’s not done yet.”

Physics research assistant Will Morong was encouraged by the tentative settlement but wanted to hear more details.

“Certainly the strike has gone on much longer than many of us expected,” he said. “It felt at times like a battle of attrition a little bit. We’re all very happy to see that it might be coming to a close.”

Cangellaris said he had hoped the strike wouldn’t last as long as it did, but added, “we are in a better place today than we were 10 days ago.”

He said the tentative agreement required “a significant commitment to find a common ground, and what I saw in the last 26 hours is that commitment at its best.”

Wood praised the solidarity of graduate employees during the strike.

“We were not going to go back to work, we were not going to suspend the picketing or the occupation, we weren’t going to give into anything that did not address our significant needs,” he said.

Update 11:15 a.m.

URBANA - The University of Illinois has reached a tentative contract agreement with its striking graduate assistants.

Graduate Employees Organization Co-President Gus Wood said a ratification vote is scheduled for union members Thursday and Friday.

The terms of the agreement were not released. The two sides had been at odds over language on tuition wavers, wages and other issues, and union members went on strike Feb. 26.

"The bargaining team has signed a tentative agreement with the Administration, which will now go to the membership for ratification. Pickets for today have been suspended. If the members vote to ratify, our strike is over and we have a new contract. If not, our strike continues," the GEO said in a Facebook post.

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the tentative agreement is "fair to everyone."

“We’re delighted that the two sides were able to come together and work collaboratively throughout the night and into the next morning to hammer out the details that address the concerns that each group had," she said.

Update 10 a.m.

URBANA - With a marathon bargaining session entering its second day, striking graduate assistants at the University of Illinois returned to the picket lines on the Quad Thursday morning.

Ashli Anda, spokeswoman for the Graduate Employees Organization, said picketing began about 8 a.m., as usual, even as negotiators continued to meet past the 24-hour mark in bargaining that began at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

"They were up all night," Anda said. "We hope that it's safe to speculate that such a lengthy session means that something is done."

UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Provost Andreas Cangellaris, who was out of town at a conference earlier this week, is back on campus and has been leading the UI's negotiating efforts the entire time, in close consultation with Chancellor Robert Jones.

"We are delighted the union has joined us at the table for a long and collaborative session," Kaler said.

Update 7:15 a.m.

URBANA - Contract talks between the University of Illinois and its striking graduate assistants were still under way this morning after an all-night bargaining session.

"It's been a productive night," UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said shortly after 7 a.m.

Negotiators for the UI and the Graduate Employees Organization started meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday with a federal mediator in an effort to bring a 10-day strike to an end.

Earlier story 9:34 p.m. Wednesday

URBANA — As striking graduate assistants camped out in two university executive offices, negotiators reported progress in contract talks that consumed most of the day Wednesday.

Graduate Employees' Organization Co-President Gus Wood said Wednesday evening he was hopeful after the union presented a comprehensive counterproposal to the university.

"We are getting close, but there are some fundamental issues we are working on," he said.

He didn't elaborate, but said the proposal covers wages, tuition waivers and other issues.

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler also said, "We're hopeful."

Working with a federal mediator, negotiators began Wednesday's session at 9 a.m. and were still going strong at 9:30 p.m., considered a hopeful sign. Wood said the talks could go late into the night.

Graduate teaching assistants, who cover a large share of UI classes, walked off the job Feb. 26 in a dispute over proposed changes to the UI's policy on tuition waivers, among other issues. Graduate students who get at least a quarter-time teaching assistantship receive free tuition.

The strike has forced the cancellation of several hundred classes and prompted instructors to move hundreds of others to buildings away from the UI's main Quad so students and faculty don't have to cross picket lines. The largest share have been moved out of Altgeld Hall and the English Building, UI officials said. Professors are taking over some classes usually taught by TAs, in some cases converting them to online lectures.

The union upped the ante a bit this week, asking its members not to report midterm grades, which were due Tuesday, said GEO spokeswoman Ashli Anda.

Anda said the grades will eventually be submitted once the strike ends; it will be part of the negotiations over how to handle teaching time lost, she said.

She acknowledged that would affect undergraduates but characterized it as a minor "hiccup."

"As soon as we can settle a contract, all of us who are TAs will get back to work and pump those grades out as soon as possible," she said.

Most students can check their grades at any time through online grade-reporting systems such as Moodle or Compass, said UI Registrar Meghan Hazen.

"Students are generally able to predict where they're at by looking at the grade book for the class," she said.

Instructors are asked to submit midterm grades for every first-year student, but not all of them meet that deadline, she said. That's especially true in the spring semester, when first-year students are taking more advanced courses and may not need as much formal feedback, Hazen said.

Typically, just over half of instructors submit midterm grades on time, she said. By Tuesday, 52 percent had been submitted — 18,730 out of 36,990 possible grades, she said. A year ago, the figure was 55 percent.

Anda said some faculty members simply postponed midterm exams because of the strike.

"Faculty are being really supportive," Anda said.

The union has created a fund to help teaching assistants who will likely lose pay because of the strike, as they aren't being paid if they're not teaching. How much they'll be docked won't be determined until the strike is over, however, so they will receive their usual monthly paycheck on March 16 unless the strike ends quickly, Anda said.

The strike fund had already topped $40,000 as of Wednesday evening, toward a $50,000 goal.

Meanwhile, some GEO members occupied a conference room in the chancellor's office at the Swanlund Administration Building on Wednesday afternoon. Chancellor Robert Jones was not there at the time, Kaler said.

About a dozen union members and their supporters were still occupying the Hall of Presidents outside UI President Tim Killeen's office on the third floor of the Henry Administration Building, which they had taken over Tuesday afternoon. Aaron Ammons, representing the Service Employees International Union, stopped by to offer support.

It was part of a broader effort, on social media and elsewhere, to garner public support for the union from across the country.

On Tuesday, about 30 members of the Chicago Teachers Union and the graduate employees union at UI Chicago marched to the offices of several UI trustees in the Chicago loop — Ramon Cepeda, James Montgomery and Patrick Fitzgerald.

Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa spoke at Wednesday’s midday rally, saying the UI had undervalued graduate students. Democratic guberernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs also stopped by to join the picket lines.

Also speaking at rallies this week included American Federation of Teachers' President Randi Weingarte and #TimesUp activist Ai-jen Poo.

And a Twitter photo of UI Provost Andreas Cangellaris and three of his counterparts from other universities at an online education conference in Arizona on Tuesday was seized on by union supporters, who criticized the provost for being out of town during the strike.

One Twitter user superimposed this message over the photo of the four provosts, who appeared to be laughing: "And then the graduate students said, can we have a living wage?"

According to a GEO photo online, someone also projected the words "occupied" and "fair contract now" on the outside of the Henry Administration Building on Tuesday night, similar to the technique used by activists on the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

"We're really hopeful that we can settle this before spring break," Andi said.

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SparkleStar wrote on March 07, 2018 at 10:03 pm

Why Tuition Waivers and a Fair Contract are important!

H.R.4508 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): PROSPER Act

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.