What You Need to Know About A Possible Strike, October 31, 2017

***October 31, 2017 — 77 days since our contract expired on August 15th***

Strike Authorization Voting Information

At our last General Membership Meeting (GMM) we began a strike authorization vote. Should this vote pass, that does not mean we have to go on strike–but it empowers our Strike Committee to make that decision if necessary. We need all members to make their voice heard! You can vote in person or online. If you haven’t received an online voting link, please email geo@uigeo.org. If you vote online, do not vote at a polling place, and vice versa. Only vote once! We’ll announce the results at our next GMM, Thursday, from 6:30pm-7:30pm.

Additionally, polling stations will be open from 9:00am-5:00pm on Tuesday and Wednesday at the following locations:

  • GEO Office (809 S 5th St, Geneva Room, Champaign)

  • English Building (608 S Wright St, Urbana, Mary Kay Peer Lounge, in building basement)

  • Loomis Laboratory (1110 W Green, Champaign, front lobby outside Room 141)

  • Education Building (1310 S 6th St, Champaign, 1st floor lobby)

There will be pop-up polling places too:

  • Beckman Institute, Room 1005, Tuesday from 4:00pm-6:00pm

  • Lincoln Hall, Department of Sociology, 702 S Wright St, 3rd floor, Tuesday 3:00 to 5:00pm

If a strike is authorized, will I be compelled to go on strike?

The GEO will not compel anyone to go on strike but we hope that you will join us, since these negotiations affect all of us and it will take all of us to be successful this bargaining cycle.

Link to the Strike Manual

In the event of a strike, the strike manual outlines how the strike will function, what your role would be, and what plans the GEO has in place to help striking workers should their wages or health insurance be impacted. Since retaliation is often a major concern for striking workers, we have outlined below how you can prevent retaliation and what steps to take if it happens to you–all this info and more is in the manual!.


What is retaliation? Any instance where your employment conditions are changed or decisions about your employment are made in retribution for activity with a union is considered retaliation. All forms of retaliation are illegal, with the exception of the withholding of pay for the time in which you withhold your labor.

Will my wages be withheld if I strike? The University Administration has the legal right to withhold wages from employees who are withholding their labor on strike. Many departments do not keep track of who goes on strike and will not reporting striking members to the Administration, though we can’t guarantee that all departments will do so. It’s a good idea to talk to department heads ahead of time to ask for support during the strike–you should reach out to your department steward to see if this has been done.

Who will help me if my wages are withheld? In the event of a strike, GEO members can vote to set aside money from the general budget for a strike fund, part of which would be used to help pay back a percentage of lost wages in the event wages are withheld, in exchange for walking the picket line. GEO would also ask its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), to subsidize small loans for striking members.

Will I be fired for withholding my labor? Members participating in a legal work action can’t be fired as long as a contract settlement is reached. In the case of a lock out, the Administration is legally required to rehire workers when negotiations are complete. The Administration is allowed to fire the entire bargaining unit and hire new adjunct workers under a new contract, but this is very unlikely given that adjuncts are paid more than grad workers, and it would be difficult to find 2,500 people with our same specializations.

What about international students? International students have the same legal protections as all other members of our bargaining unit. They are protected from illegal acts of retaliation and have the same ability to file grievances as domestic students.

What can be done to prevent retaliation? If retaliation does occur it will likely be at the departmental level. To prevent this, it is important to reach out to faculty and staff prior to a strike. Even the act of threatening to retaliate is illegal, so please document any instances of this thoroughly and report it to the GEO Grievance Committee (grievance@uigeo.org).

What if retaliation occurs? In the event that illegal acts of retaliation occur against striking grad workers the GEO can file an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the state Labor Board. These procedures can take time, but act as another deterrent against retaliation behavior.

What should I do if I believe that I am being retaliated against? First, document everything as thoroughly as possible: take notes, ask for written statements from the supervisor that is making the decision, including an explanation of why this decision was made; and request a witness, preferable a union representative, for conversations concerning the action. Second, contact the union and discuss this situation with the grievance committee. The sooner this happens, the easier it is to right any wrongs committed against you.

How to talk to Faculty about a Strike

Make sure they know the basics. Make sure faculty know what the GEO is, that we are negotiating our contract, and what our four pillars are (Living Wage, Health Care, Access and Equality, and Protection for Tuition Waivers).

Make sure they know the numbers. Make it clear that the University is NOT broke, and that their misplaced priorities are hurting both students AND faculty. Additionally, point out that we are asking for a small raise to keep up with the rising cost of living in Champaign-Urbana, and explain to them the burden imposed on us by fees, health care costs, and child care costs. If they do not already know, tell them why tuition waivers are important for students and for the prestige of their own departments. Likely, they understand that tuition waivers are used to compete for the best students.

If your faculty members seem supportive, let them know there are ways that they can help. Here is a link to a template letter (which they can modify) you can ask faculty and other supportive parties to sign and send to the Provost expressing their support for the GEO. Faculty can also help by supporting the GEO on the picket line, wearing GEO buttons, and moving their classes out of targeted buildings in the event of a strike. You can also tell them to talk to other faculty and explain why they should support the GEO.

How to Talk to Your Students

Do not tell them about union activity during class time. This could be construed as an ethics violation. You are certainly welcome to make an announcement that for any students who are interested in learning about a possible strike and what’s going on, you would be happy to speak to them after class.

Tell them about our financial situation. Many students simply don’t know what the financial reality of graduate employees is, and are sympathetic when they learn.

Remind them that our working conditions are their learning conditions. We can’t be the best teachers we can be if we are stressing about our ability to make ends meet, or are putting off taking care of our health because we can’t afford to go to the doctor. Besides, a more competitive contract means we can attract the best graduate employees to campus, so they’ll have the best possible teachers.

Remind them that we care about them and have done everything possible to avoid a strike. Our proposals are reasonable and backed up by research and rationale. We’ve shown ourselves to be willing to compromise and work with the Administration. But if a strike is the only way we can be heard by the Administration and protect our membership, we have to be prepared to do so.

How to Get Involved

If you haven’t had much time to get involved with GEO in the last few months, now is the time to join in! In the event of a strike we will need hard commits from people to serve as picket captains and to sign up for shifts on the picket line. If we strike, we need as many people as possible out to show the Administration our strength and that we won’t back down until we get a fair contract.

The Administration’s Spin on Negotiations

On the University’s Human Resources website, the Administration’s bargaining team has been creating little blurbs to document contract negotiations. Their summaries of negotiations are, of course, framed to show the University in the best light. For example, one of their posts celebrates that we were able to reach an agreement on non-discrimination language. What it doesn’t say is that they fought for weeks against expanding our non-discrimination clause, and refused to consider adding certain protected categories to our contract. This website also tries to make it appear that graduate employees are much better off financially than is the case, by, for example, obfuscating the numbers or counting the cost of our waived tuition as part of our wages. The fact remains that the minimum annual salary for a graduate employees at a 50% appointment is $16,360.

These updates are on the website in order to put the University in the best light possible and make us seem unreasonable. When faculty and staff learn of GEO’s efforts, they may be tempted to visit this website and take the Administration at their word. Given this, we must be ready to clarify the reality of the situation when our departments reference these summaries.


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In Solidarity,

Graduate Employees’ Organization

809 S. 5th St., Geneva Room

Champaign, IL 61820

Phone: 217-344-8283

Email: geo@uigeo.org