FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 8, 2017
U of I Grad Employees Set Strike Date
Workers set to walk off February 26th over administration’s threat to take away tuition waivers
URBANA-CHAMPAIGN – WEDNESDAY -The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) will declare a strike on February 26th over the administration’s plan to terminate tuition waivers for graduate employees, essentially forcing workers to pay to keep their jobs, as well as proposals by the University that would impact the workers’ financial stability, making graduate employment unaffordable.
After 10 months of bargaining, yesterday the administration revealed their draconian plan to terminate full tuition waiver protections, which would have compounded effects over time. More clearly, the University administration refuses to bargain tuition waivers with us. Our position is that, as compensation, tuition waivers are a mandatory subject of bargaining and legal to strike over, a position upheld by two separate legally binding arbitration decisions. In other words, the University administration is telling graduate employees that make $17,000 or less that we have to start paying more to work here than we are making in our salaries. If tuition waivers aren’t protected in our contract, fewer waivers will be made available to graduate workers, who will have to compete for fewer and fewer of them. In the current system each worker has equal access to a tuition waiver. What the administration proposes will favor some departments over others, forcing graduate workers into a Hunger Games scenario where they compete, instead of cooperate to maintain the high level of education available to undergraduates Not only will this make graduate education unaffordable, but it means that fewer graduate employees will be legally protected by our union contract, as the administration’s position is that only employees with tuition waivers are members of our bargaining unit. In the long term, this will decimate individual graduate programs: departments will only be able to recruit those who can afford to pay high tuition rather than seeking out the best students. With fewer graduate students on campus and fewer positions covered by the contract, GEO will go extinct.
GEO understands new programs are important in maintaining a world-class education for all students. Administration must work with GEO on a plan that is best for the graduate workers and the students they serve. However, unilaterally taking away tuition waivers does nothing to improve teaching and learning.
What this means is that we’re no longer just fighting for fair compensation and working conditions: we’re fighting for the life of our Union, our ability to attend grad school, the future of our departments, and the future of higher education.
“Our amazing GEO members rallied by the hundreds twice today: once on less than two hours notice to commit to finishing this contract negotiation without a strike. We want a contract that emphasizes our two biggest priorities: securing members’ financial stability and protecting tuition waivers. Without these, education is not accessible to all GEO members who teach and work at this university. After today’s bargaining session, our membership demonstrated that we are willing to strike and will do so to prevent the University administration from busting our union,” said Katie Lee, a GEO Bargaining Team lead negotiator.
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) represent 2600 graduate employees in the University of Illinois system. GEO is affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers