Updates from the GEO, November 15, 2017

 

***November 15, 2017 — 92 days since our contract expired on August 15th***

Table of Contents:

  • ANNOUNCEMENTS
    • Bargaining/Mediation Update
    • Temporary Full-Time Organizers
    • Information About Tuition Waiver Taxation Plan
    • Response to Administration’s Website on Bargaining
  • EVENTS
    • Wear It Wednesday
    • Work-In Wednesday & Fight the Tuition Waiver Tax
    • One Year’s Enough: Rally on the Anniversary of Trump’s Election
    • Save Graduate Education Tuition Waivers
    • Weekly General Membership Meetings
  • COMMITTEE UPDATES
  • CONNECT WITH GEO

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ANNOUNCEMENTS

Bargaining/Mediation Update

Our 17th bargaining session was another frustrating one, as the Admin showed no willingness to move on the major economic proposals yet. However, they did finally indicate some willingness to finally comply with an arbitration and pay back MCS students who had been denied tuition waivers in violation of our contract. You can read more about the MCS case here, and find the full recap of the bargaining session here.

Our next mediation session will be Wednesday, Nov. 29th, from 9am-5pm, at the Illinois Fire Services Institute (11 Gerty Drive, Champaign, IL 61820). All members are welcome to attend, and coffee/light refreshments will be provided. If you come, we suggest you bring some work, as there is a lot of down time during mediation.

Temporary Full-Time Organizers

GEO has hired two temporary full-time organizers to help us with the on-the-ground organizing that will be necessary to win this contract! You’ll see them around campus, talking to members, so be sure to say hi!

Coming to us from Michigan State University, Joel Reinstein has organized for several years in the Palestine solidarity movement. He’s excited to work for GEO and activate grad workers to build a strong, member-driven union.

Muhammad Yousuf is a recent alum of UIUC and has organized with various student and community activist groups over the past four years. No stranger to keeping admin in check, he’s ready to help the GEO fight for a fair contract.

Information About Tuition Waiver Taxation Plan

The proposed GOP Tax Plan threatens to tax tuition waivers as income. Section 117d of the current Tax code exempts tuition waivers from taxation, but has been eliminated in the draft of the new Tax Plan. For graduate students, this would mean being taxed on a massive sum of money that never even graces their bank accounts.

Learn more about this issue via the document linked below:

Tuition Waiver Taxation Fact Sheet

Response to Administration’s Website on Bargaining

The Administration has created and begun to advertise a website about bargaining with us. Besides standard propaganda, the website contains several inaccuracies. For a full breakdown of the harmful claims they make, see Gabe Malo’s excellent analysis on his blog here (numbers for healthcare costs have been updated slightly since his post was written, but do not change the point he’s making). We have summarized these points below:

  • Referring to average compensation obfuscates the distressingly low wages that many graduate employees receive. Furthermore, graduate employees are not allowed to work full time and most cannot work over the summer, making comparison to broader assessments of a living wage inappropriate.
  • Tuition waivers are not “real money.” Our compensation is freedom from paying tuition, rather than the money to pay for tuition. Therefore the dollar value of tuition waivers should not be considered part of our compensation.
  • The Administration has proposed a cap on their portion of health insurance premium payments. Even with the increases they have proposed to the percentage they would pay and the cap, they would reach this cap in a year or two if the current trend in premium increases continued. Thus our healthcare costs would continue to rise, actually in excess of what we would pay under the status quo. They mention nothing of our proposals for summer health insurance coverage or keeping ACA standards of care.
  • Their discussion of fee waivers fails to mention that we pay in excess of $500/semester in fees and health insurance, far more than at many competing universities. This reduces our take-home yearly pay by over $1000. And while currently 72% of fees are all or partially waived, most of these are determined by the Graduate Handbook which they could change at any time.  

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EVENTS

GEO members are encouraged to attend the following events this week:

Wear It Wednesday

Every Wednesday, wear your GEO shirt or pin for “Wear it Wednesday”! Take a photo and post it with the tag #WearItWednesday to share with us on Instagram or Twitter.

Work-in Wednesday & Fight the Tuition Waiver Tax

#WorkInWednesday

We have a weekly work-in on Wednesdays at the Courtyard Cafe in the Illini Union, 11:00am-1:00pm. This week, we will utilise this time to also fight the GOP’s new tax bill that that seeks to tax the tuition waivers received by Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants. Graduate Assistants already receive $0 paychecks some months due to this tax. Fight this tax bill by calling your representatives and telling them this is not acceptable. GEO will have a script ready for you at the work-in.  If you can’t make it to the work-in, here’s a script for you to use when you call your representatives on your own time!

So come on out and make some calls in solidarity with your fellow employees. Work-ins are a great way to increase visibility and demonstrate our solidarity to the entire campus, as well as to ask questions and learn more about bargaining, future work actions, and how you can get involved. All are welcome. And don’t forget — it’s Wear-It Wednesday, so wear some GEO swag! Here is a Facebook event link for the Work-In.

One Year is Enough Rally

Join us at the One Year’s Enough rally at the Alma Mater on Thursday, November 16 from 1:00pm to 2:00pm. The GEO is cosponsoring this event with some of our campus RSOs to build and participate in a day of student action. This rally is occurring with other rallies through the One Year is Enough campaign (https://www.oneyearisenough.com/).

Rally to Save Graduate Education Tuition Waivers

Come to the Alma Mater Thursday, November 16 at 5:30pm for a rally to Save Graduate Education Tuition Waivers. The recently proposed tax reform plan will tax tuition waivers as income, threatening the ability of all but the independently wealthy to attend graduate school. After the rally we’ll march together to the General Membership meeting at the Channing Murray Foundation.  

General Membership Meeting

Come to the weekly General Membership Meeting at the Channing Murray Foundation at 6:30PM on 11/16/17. We will be focusing on best practices for effective organizing and strategies for how to get your friends and colleagues involved in GEO. Pizza will be provided!

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COMMITTEE UPDATES

RA Working Group:

The RA Working Group has formed to research and implement methods of successfully organizing and advocating for Research Assistants. Please contact Zoë MacDowell Kaswan at officer3@uigeo.org for more information or if you are interested in participating.

Solidarity Committee (Sol Comm):

The Solidarity Committee (SolComm) serves to build ties of solidarity between the GEO and other people’s movements and local social justice-oriented projects. If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please contact the Solidarity Chair at solcomm@uigeo.org. Our next meeting is on Friday, December 8, 6:00 pm at the GEO Office.

Grievance Committee (GC):

A contract is only as good as our ability to enforce it. The Grievance Committee is responsible for advocating for fair labor practices at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and protecting graduate employees from abuse, and we need your help! The next meeting is on Monday, November 27, 7:00 pm at the GEO Office. Contact grievance@uigeo.org for more information.

Stewards’ Council (SC):

The Stewards Council is always looking for new members who want to help organize their departments! Stewards are a visible representative of the GEO in their departments, and representatives of their department to the GEO. Please contact the Stewards’ Council Chair at sc@uigeo.org for the next meeting time and any other questions.


Communications Committee (Comm Comm):

We’re looking for new members to join our committee! Our meetings are open to all GEO members and no prior experience with communications is necessary. Please contact the Communications Officer at commcomm@uigeo.org for the next meeting time and/or if you are interested in joining or working on designing fliers and posters.

Coordinating Committee (CC):

The Coordinating Committee (CC) is made up of elected officers from all committees, though any member may attend meetings. Our meetings are open to all GEO members. Please contact the Co-Presidents at cc@uigeo.org with any questions about the next meeting.

Health Care Working Group (HCWG):

The Health Care Working Group works to educate graduate employees on their healthcare rights and benefits, as well as facilitating conversations about healthcare on campus between different stakeholder groups. For more information, please contact geo@uigeo.org.

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CONNECT WITH GEO!

Website: www.uigeo.org

Twitter: @geo_uiuc

Facebook: @uigeo  @geosolcomm

Instagram: @geo_uiuc


Text the word “GEO” to 69238 to receive periodic messages concerning crucial bargaining updates and other urgent information. Msg & data rates may apply. Text STOP to 69238 to stop receiving messages. Text HELP to 69238 for more information. Terms & Conditions.

In Solidarity,

Graduate Employees’ Organization

809 S. 5th St., Geneva Room

Champaign, IL 61820

Phone: 217-344-8283

Email: geo@uigeo.org

Response to Admin’s website about bargaining

Summary:

  • Referring to average compensation obfuscates the distressingly low wages that many graduate employees receive. Furthermore, graduate employees are not allowed to work full time and most cannot work over the summer, making comparison to broader assessments of a living wage inappropriate.
  • Tuition waivers are not “real money.” Our compensation is freedom from paying tuition, rather than the money to pay for tuition. Therefore the dollar value of tuition waivers should not be considered part of our compensation.
  • The Administration has proposed a cap on their portion of health insurance premium payments. Even with the increases they have proposed to the percentage they would pay and the cap, they would reach this cap in a year or two if the current trend in premium increases continued. Thus our healthcare costs would continue to rise, actually in excess of what we would pay under the status quo. They mention nothing of our proposals for summer health insurance coverage or keeping ACA standards of care.
  • Their discussion of fee waivers fails to mention that we pay in excess of $500/semester in fees and health insurance, far more than at many competing universities. This reduces our take-home yearly pay by over $1000. And while currently 72% of fees are all or partially waived, most of these are determined by the Graduate Handbook which they could change at any time. 

Long response by GEO member Gabe Malo:

The University is circulating this page to faculty. It justifies the positions that the University is taking in contract negotiations with the GEO (which represents the University’s teaching assistants and graduate assistants). The information given on that page, however, is incredibly misleading. I’d like to presently (and with much credit to Grace Hébert, who called out this site and some of its flaws in her Facebook post) address some of these problems here:

1) The average compensation that they list is not what many individuals are receiving. For instance, my appointment gives me the absolute minimum. That’s $16,360.83 a year before taxes for twenty hours a week. This is several thousand dollars less than the living wage cited by the University in other materials.

2.) They state that we earn the equivalent of $20.97 an hour, and remind us that a living wage is $10.42 an hour. This comparison is neither fair nor apt. The living wage presumes a 40 hour work week. The average appointment is for 50% of that, or 20 hours. The maximum appointment that a graduate student is allowed is 67% (or around 27 hours) for domestic students, and 50% for international students. Moreover, the living wage presumes that you are employed for the entire year. Most teaching appointments only last for nine months. Many of us are not paid at all during the months of June, July, and August.

Making up these disparities is difficult-to-impossible. Graduate students are expected to conduct research, attend classes, and/or write in addition to the duties related to their appointment, most of which are unrelated to their academic progress. Carrying a second job in addition to both an active appointment and a vital academic career is next-to-impossible. Summer labor is also difficult to find; while some of us are able to scrape together minimal summer funding—or are lucky enough to land appointments that extend over the summer—the vast majority of us must look for work or save during the rest of the year. Finding such work is difficult—there is high demand in Chambana for relatively few seasonal jobs.

The situation for international students is even more dire. Most international students cannot legally work for anyone other than the university while they are in the US, meaning that University funding is the only source of income available to them while they are earning their degrees. Even if they want to look for off-campus work, their visas won’t allow it. They are entirely dependent upon the University for funding.

3.) They include tuition waivers as part of our compensation package. Tuition waivers cannot be spent. I cannot use my tuition waiver for rent. I cannot use my tuition waiver to buy groceries. It is a benefit, but it is not a benefit that meaningfully affects my day-to-day needs. It should be considered separately from the total cost of living.

4.) They imply that their offer on healthcare is an increase relative to their current coverage. It is not. The University wants to change from covering 80% of our premium to covering 83% of our premium or $550, whichever is less. Essentially, they want to cap the amount of our insurance that they pay. This is not a generous offer; this is a desire to control their costs. They also fail to mention that the GEO has asked for language guaranteeing the same coverages found in the ACA guidelines. Much of this coverage was not guaranteed prior to the ACA (for instance, we used to have a pre-existing conditions exclusion). We do not want to lose this coverage if the ACA is repealed.

5.) They completely sidestep the issue of summer health insurance. The University currently does not pay for either access to McKinley or health insurance over the summer. This is approximately $175 for McKinley, and approximately $370 for insurance coverage (amount as of Summer 2016). This amount must be paid in May, immediately prior to three months of no wages.

6.) They point out that they cover “72% of all fees.” This (on top of the uncovered amount for insurance, which ends up being a little over $100) means that I personally started this semester owing about $500. That’s more than 1/3 of my monthly take-home pay. Fees alone reduce my effective compensation to around $15,300 a year.

All of this isn’t just inaccurate; it’s insulting. It’s being disseminated to the faculty and to the department heads that control our academic fate. It’s attempting to make us look like petulant children who are challenging an already generous agreement. We aren’t. We are labor. We teach your students, we run your libraries, we help publish your journals. We facilitate research. We are as much the university as the administrator with whom our union is negotiating. And all we want is to be able to live, not comfortably, but viably.