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News Gazette–11th hour claim

November 15, 2009


GEO, UI remain at odds over tuition waivers

By Tim Mitchell
Sunday November 15, 2009

Representatives from the union representing graduate and teaching assistants at the University of Illinois dispute a claim by the university that their demands concerning tuition-waiver security are an “11th hour” proposal.

“Our original proposal on April 21 included a request for tuition-waiver security,” said Graduate Employees Organization spokesman Peter Campbell. “Most of the press releases the GEO has released include requests for tuition-waiver security. This is not an 11th-hour proposal.”

UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the university already provides tuition waivers for graduate and teaching assistants.

The administration is concerned about what it believes are apparent new demands for a permanent commitment to providing current tuition-waiver levels for every graduate assistant regardless of academic standing or departmental budget.

“Everything that had been on the table for the past seven months has been resolved, but the GEO made new demands on Saturday,” Kaler said. “It is in the university’s best interest to offer the best package to attract and retain the best graduate assistants. We will do everything we can to offer competitive packages to graduate students.”

Campbell maintains that the demands for tuition waiver security are not new.

“There was not a lot of discussion of the GEO’s proposal for tuition-waiver security until Saturday, but it is not true that we did not bring it up,” Campbell said.

“Providing tuition waivers are a central mission of land-grant institutions. To not provide tuition-waiver security is totally contrary to the mission of the university because it would deny access to public education to those who are economically unprivileged,” Campbell said.

“If the university wants to change the board of trustees’ tuition-waiver policy, we are offering to open that up to bargaining,” Kaler said.

The GEO, which represents about 2,700 graduate and teaching assistants in the bargaining unit, announced Sunday it would strike “against the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois” beginning at 8 a.m. today.

Teaching and graduate assistants have been working without a contract since Aug. 15.

The two sides negotiated on Saturday for more than six hours with a federal mediator at the Institute of Aviation in Savoy. Campbell said another negotiating session isn’t scheduled until Tuesday afternoon.

A tuition waiver is a condition of employment that exempts the worker from paying for tuition at the university.

“Tuition wavers are important because GEO bargaining-unit members teach 23.1 percent of all undergraduate course hours. And yet our salaries draw only 6.5 percent of state funding, including salaries for graduate assistants and research assistants, who don’t teach,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the two sides are not close on the tuition-waiver issue.

“The administration refused to provide continued protection for tuition waivers,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he hoped a negotiating session scheduled for Tuesday afternoon would allow the two sides to reach an agreement on the tuition-waiver issue.

A decision on tuition waivers would not affect the university’s payment of fees to GEO members. Both Campbell and Kaler said the two sides have already reached a tentative agreement to have the university waive a portion of health-insurance fees for the affected employees.

Kaler said the university will increase the amount of health-insurance fees it pays for the graduate employees from the current 50 percent to 65 percent the first year and then 75 percent in the second and third years.

Campbell said the GEO would not discipline GEO members who choose to teach Monday morning in spite of the strike.

“The GEO will not coerce or force GEO members to participate in a strike, but if a teaching assistant teaches on Monday, that violates the strike,” Campbell said.

Campbell said there is no system in place for the union to monitor whether its members were honoring the strike.

“The GEO is not interested in surveilling its members,” Campbell said.

Kaler said none of the items that the two sides have agreed on is being put back on the table as a result of the call for a strike.

“We have agreed to those items,” Kaler said.

Those items include:

– Increasing the minimum stipend for employees working 20 hours a week, nine months a year from $13,430 to $13,840 the first year, $14,250 the second year and $14,820 the third year.

– Increasing the amount of student health-insurance fees paid for by the university from 50 percent to 65 percent the first year and a 75 percent the second and third years.

– Creating a parental accommodation period following the birth or an initial adoption of a child.

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