GRADUATE EMPLOYEES’ ORGANIZATION UIUC LOCAL 6300
Urbana-Champaign (January 29, 2018) – The Graduate Employees Organization Local 6300 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (the GEO) filed an official Intent to Strike Notice with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board today, after the University Administration failed to respond to substantial movement in the GEO’s latest comprehensive proposal, refusing to even provide a counter-offer in the bargaining session. The Intent to Strike Notice gives the GEO the legal protection to engage in a work stoppage if necessary in the future. The GEO has attempted to utilize all possible avenues towards resolving this contract at the table, including mediation, filing two Unfair Labor Practice charges against the University Administration, and making substantial movement from its original contract proposals. The Administration, however, has consistently stalled and held austere proposals that would negatively impact the economic stability of graduate employees. “We firmly hold the position that we want to resolve this contract negotiation at the bargaining table,” said co-President Gus Wood. “We do not want to strike because we love our undergraduates and our work. However, if the University Administration continues in their pattern of neglect and disrespect for our working conditions, economic stability, and value to the success of this institution, we will declare a strike to protect our membership, our union, our undergraduates, and the integrity and quality of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”
After the last three mediated bargaining sessions, the GEO’s Bargaining Team and Strike Committee determined that it is highly unlikely that contract negotiations can be resolved at the table without abandoning many union protections and the chance to secure financial stability for its membership. “The Administration’s proposals would drastically undermine the accessibility and affordability of higher education here at Illinois,” said Patrick Kimutis, a Bargaining Team Member and graduate employee in the Department of English. “The Administration’s proposal would raise our healthcare cost and burden many graduate employees with over $1,000 worth of annual fees. And even though most graduate employees make well below the University’s published cost of living, the Administration has refused to guarantee annual raises, making our education costs unaffordable and blocking access to this University for many disadvantaged people. The Administration is waging an assault on our our economic stability.” Graduate employees at UIUC have reported having difficulties with paying monthly bills and buying food, and some members, like PhD candidate and co-President Gus Wood, feel that they are only one emergency away from significant financial disaster. Wood, whose car was repossessed in Fall 2015 while he was a TA making $17,000 a year, says that this bargaining cycle is an opportunity to make education affordable and secure financial stability for graduate workers across campus. “Losing my car and not being able to afford bare necessities solely because I did not make enough money as a TA at UIUC was devastating and embarrassing. I was forced to work four jobs to get my car back and maintain my bills. I fight for a fair contract because everyone deserves financial stability,” said Wood. “Graduate workers should not have to seek extra work outside the university like I did to avoid major financial loss because they cannot afford a car payment, a healthcare bill, child care, or any other financial hardship. This university only operates because we provide teaching, research, clerical work, mentorship, and committee work. Thus, our value to the success, integrity, and quality of undergraduate education here must correlate with how we are compensated. Otherwise, more and more graduate workers will suffer hardship and be forced to make difficult choices between paying bills and eating. We must win this contract to make education affordable and accessible here. These are the stakes of this contract struggle,” he said.
The GEO hopes that the Intent to Strike Notice will serve to pressure the University administration at the parties’ next mediation session on January 30th. “We simply want a better campus and better graduate school experience for everyone across the Champaign County communities,” said GEO co-President Marília Corrêa. “If the UIUC administration forces us into a work stoppage, they will put campus operations at risk, jeopardize this Spring semester, and force classes to cancel, wasting the tuition money undergraduates pay to go here. This Intent to Strike puts the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign County, and the state of Illinois on notice that the GEO is ready, if necessary, to utilize all means, including worker power and solidarity, to secure affordable education and working conditions, protect graduate workers, and fight for the integrity and quality of higher education. We demand the University of Illinois Administrative bargaining team accept our reasonable comprehensive proposal on January 30th. We, as graduate workers, deserve it.”