Today was our 27th bargaining session, the fifth since the strike began.
At the beginning of the session, the administration still did not have a counter to our proposal on fees or to our proposal on the right of GEO to not be denied access to departmental orientations for new TAs to inform them of their workplace rights. They still demanded that we step down further on our wages proposal, with nothing in return. In an effort to move things forward, we offered to make some movement in exchange for them agreeing to our proposal on access to departmental orientations, since this is a non-economic proposal that wouldn’t cost the university a penny. They rejected this offer.
Then, literally 5 minutes before the session ended, they finally gave us a counter-proposal addressing fees. Their proposal is to create a side letter to the contract saying in academic year 2019-20 only, the planned $50-per-semester increase to the General Fee will be offset with a matching increase to the campus minimum wage. This means that next year only, anyone making the campus minimum would see an extra $50 per semester, presumably in addition to whatever raise we get. The side letter also says that next year only, the university will not increase the cost of the International Student Fee. However, there was already no plan to increase this fee next year that anyone is aware of.
At that same moment we were given this proposal–with 5 minutes left in the session–we were told the admins would be on campus to meet with us tomorrow and expected us to show up, even though these sessions are supposed to be and have always been scheduled by mutual agreement. We’ve held three sessions this week, and only at the last minute today they gave us something on fees and pressured us into coming in on a Saturday to give our counter offer.
After the session ended, the GEO bargaining team put together a package proposal on all the outstanding issues, including fees, wages, and healthcare. On fees, we are still seeking that most of the General Fee and International Student Fee be waived and that any new fees automatically be waived until GEO can negotiate them. On wages, we’re seeking a 24 percent increase by the 2020-2021 academic year, which would still have us making $5,000-$9,000 less than our counterparts at Chicago’s other Research 1 universities. And on healthcare, we’re still seeking a cap on the Campus Care fee and for the university to partially cover the cost of dependent care. For a university that has been throwing around a lot of money on new buildings and huge bonuses for top administrators–a university that claims it wants to be attractive to working-class students, students of color, and international students–we feel this is all very reasonable and doable.
We emailed this proposal to the admins this afternoon, saying they can take a look at it now and we will come in tomorrow to meet for one hour, from 12 to 1, in UH 650, to see if they have any response. We also let them know that in the future we will refuse any sessions proposed in the manner in which this one was proposed. They’ve been playing a game of tag on who hands which proposal last, forcing us to waste our time. But they now have our counter-proposal on all outstanding issues and we will be there for an hour tomorrow in an effort to settle the strike. The ball is in their court.