Fighting Illini: Grad Students Vow to Continue Strike (1)

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By Jaclyn Diaz

Graduate student workers at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign say they will continue their strike indefinitely.

The strike, which began Feb. 26, will go on until “the administration bargaining team calls our team back into the bargaining room and we settle a contract,” a Graduate Employees’ Organization representative said in an email to Bloomberg Law.

The students have been without a contract since August. Both GEO and the university are at odds over wage and tuition waiver proposals. GEO represents about 2,700 graduate and teaching assistants across the campus.

The picket lines have presented some disruption on campus. Three classes were moved the first day of the work stoppage but none were canceled, a university spokeswoman said in an email to Bloomberg Law.

The university hasn’t presented proposals that address those concerns to the union’s liking, the GEO said. The administration wants to offer the grad students tuition waivers based on student eligibility, while the union is looking for guaranteed waivers. The workers make just under $17,000 a year, and without those waivers the students would have difficulty completing their education, GEO said. The cost of tuition could be $30,000 or more.

The union also struck in 2002 and 2009, according to GEO.

The university said it is “extremely disappointed” by the decision to strike and that it has negotiated in good faith. The university stands “ready to resume negotiations as soon as they are,” the university spokeswoman said Feb. 26.

As of Feb. 27, the union said it hadn’t heard from the university and had no immediate plans to meet again.

Tuition Waivers, Wages

A majority of GEO members hold positions where they must work at least 20 hours a week for up to nine months each academic year to receive a tuition waiver. The amount of the waiver depends on which department the student works in. Other universities in Illinois have similar tuition programs.

The university says it does not want to change the waiver system for current students but “wants to preserve its ability, as reflected within the management rights clause of the collective bargaining agreement,” to review current programs and develop new ones when necessary.

On pay, the union and UIUC appear to hold very different views.

GEO wants employees to get an 8 percent raise to the minimum salary and 4 percent annual raises, according to the union’s website. UIUC has offered a 1.5 percent increase. The school said “any wage increases for graduate employees should be determined in accordance with the percentage increase announced by the Chancellor and Provost as part of any campus-wide general salary program for each academic year.”

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