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News Gazette–Tentative Contract Proposal

November 17, 2009


GEO to meet on contract, could return to work Wednesday

By The News-Gazette
Tuesday November 17, 2009

URBANA — Graduate students could return to teaching duties Wednesday after the University of Illinois and the Graduate Employees’ Organization reached a tentative contract agreement Tuesday morning.

The three-year agreement, which is retroactive to August 2009, addresses the last major sticking point — tuition waivers.

If the strike is suspended, union spokesman Peter Campbell said, GEO members will return to work on Wednesday morning, and the GEO coordinating committee will then call an official contract ratification vote. If a majority of GEO members vote to ratify the contract, negotiations will be officially over.

Campbell said the union’s strike committee has called for an end to picketing by the graduate students.

Under the terms, graduate assistant and teaching assistants “will not have their tuition waivers reduced while they hold qualifying assistantships, are in good academic standing, and are making proper progress toward graduation in the program in which they began,” according to the university.

That provision is “consistent with longstanding and ongoing practice,” a release from the UI said. The language was added to a side letter of the tentative contract, UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

“We value the contributions our graduate assistants make to the campus, and we feel this tentative agreement represents the best possible contract given the financial constraints we face,” Robert Easter, interim UI provost and interim chancellor, said in the release. “We are hopeful that since the bargaining teams have reached tentative agreements that cover all substantive issues, members of the GEO will vote in favor of the agreement.”

The GEO, which represents more than 2,600 graduate and teaching assistants, announced the accord Tuesday afternoon at Foellinger Auditorium.

“Unquestionably, this is a win for the GEO,” said GEO spokesman Peter Campbell. “The bargaining team was able to secure language that we believe significantly increases protection for tuition waivers at Urbana-Champaign.

“We won a significant wage increase, and we won increases in health care and child care benefits.”

Easter had sent a mass e-mail to campus Monday afternoon reiterating the UI’s tuition-waiver policy and attempting to clear up any confusion on the part of the graduate assistants, Kaler said. GEO representatives said Monday that they wanted to see the language.

Campbell said UI rules protected only in-state tuition waivers, and the proposal would provide no protection for waivers if the administration moved to change some or all out-of-state waivers to in-state tuition.

“It really was not an issue. It was a concern,” Kaler said. “We clarified what our practice and our policy are. They thanked us for that and said that assuaged their concern.”

The UI said other terms of the agreement, which were approved by both sides Saturday night, include:

— Increases to the minimum stipend for 50 percent appointments, which involves working 20 hours per week nine months a year. The first-year stipend will rise from $13,430 to $13,840.

— Increases to the student health insurance fee subsidy, to 65 to 75 percent up from the current 50 percent.

— Creation of a parental accommodation period following the birth or initial adoption of a child.

— Amendments to the grievance language and other noneconomic language amendments.

Kaler said the impact of Monday’s strike was “minimal” campuswide, based on reports from various colleges. She hadn’t yet seen the reports from Tuesday morning.

“We’re very happy that everybody can get back to focusing on the business of learning and teaching and sharing knowledge,” she said.

Campbell estimated that at least 1,500 GEO members took part in picket lines on Monday and Tuesday.

Three more steps are needed before the tentative agreement is approved by the union.

Campbell said the GEO members will hold a general membership meeting at 5:30 p.m. to take an informal vote on endorsing the tentative agreement.

“The members present will be given details on the contract, and we will ask them to vote on whether to endorse the contract,” Campbell said.

Then the GEO strike committee will vote immediately after the general membership meeting on whether to suspend the strike.

“If the strike committee votes to suspend the strike, then we will be back to work tomorrow,” Campbell said.

Campbell said a formal ratification vote by the GEO membership will take place before Thanksgiving and could happen as soon as the latter part of this week.

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