The Graduate Employees Organization is a democratic union run by and for its members, the more than 1400 graduate employees at UIC. GEO is affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the AFL-CIO.
1988 – The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) formed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an advocacy organization for graduate employee concerns. One of the early victories for the UIUC-GEO was winning a fee deferment so that grad employees don’t have to pay fees until after their first paycheck.
Early 90′s – Early in UIUC-GEO’s history healthcare became a central concern and we won a dental plan through a public pressure campaign. In 1994 GEO members decided to launch an official union drive. In 1995 members voted to affiliate with the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT).
1994-1995 – In the fall of 1994, several teaching assistants in UIC’s English department met on the lawn in front of the Behavioral Sciences Building to discuss their unreasonably heavy workloads. This group began the work of organizing UIC’s graduate employees into a union that would represent all graduate employees in collective bargaining with the university over pay, benefits, terms, and conditions of employment. In the winter of 1995 they hosted a meeting of representatives from several recognized graduate employee unions and from the UIUC-GEO, who by that time had been organizing aggressively for about two years.
1995-1997 – Throughout 1995-96, UIC-GEO continued to make contacts in new departments. We learned in 1997 that the IFT was interested in supporting our campaign also by providing us with both organizing advice and financial support. We followed the UIUC-GEO in affiliating with the IFT. UIC-GEO began recruiting heavily in many departments. We raised the profile of the UIC-GEO on campus and built intellectual and social community among UIC’s graduate employees.
1997-2000 – At UIUC, over 3,200 grad employees signed authorization cards asking the University to hold a union election. In 1997, the UIUC-GEO won an independent union election (run according to Labor Board rules and overseen by the Religious Workers Association) by 64%. A majority of people in each job category (TA, RA, and GA) voted for the union. However, the UIUC administration immediately contested the election and refused to recognize the UIUC-GEO. UIC-GEO dealt with this situation by organizing campaigns to win specific benefits for graduate employees, and we persuaded the university to provide all graduate employees with dental and vision insurance. Graduate employees received dental coverage in fall of 1999 and received vision coverage in fall of 2000.
2000 – UIUC-GEO members occupied the offices of the Board of Trustees with the simple demand that the University administration meet with the UIUC-GEO to resolve this conflict. This event got national and even international media attention and shortly after the occupation the administration agreed to meet with the GEO. The meeting with UIUC Provost Herman produced no real dialogue and the administration still refused to recognize graduate employees as workers.
2001 – The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) was preparing to rule on graduate employees’ collective bargaining rights. They indicated that they would strip union rights from all but 100-200 graduate employees at UIUC. After several years of failed legal and legislative attempts at gaining the right to bargain collectively, the membership voted to pursue a more stringent course of direct action. In Fall 2001 the UIUC-GEO held a 2-day strike of 5 buildings. Almost 400 graduate employees, faculty, and undergraduate supporters came out to picket despite freezing rain. The University remained steadfast in their refusal to compromise.
2002 – In Spring 2002, UIUC-GEO announced plans for a larger and longer strike. In the meantime, UIUC-GEO held a sit-in at Swanlund Administration Building, shutting down several administrative offices. After 12 hours the administration came to offer a compromise that eventually resulted in settlement that gave UIUC TA’s and GA’s collective bargaining rights! In December 2002, GEO won a representation election by a margin of greater than 3 to 1.
2003 – 2004 – While UIUC-GEO began negotiating its first contract, UIC-GEO began organizing heavily across campus, building membership to an all-time high with members across every department and work areausing the card check process. Due to a combination of University challenges and inefficiency, our union was not recognized until Fall Semester 2004, and bargaining did not commence until Spring Semester 2005.
2004 – 2006 — In Fall 2004 we elected a bargaining team and, in January 2005, began negotiation with the University administration to gain improvements to our wages and terms and conditions of work. As negotiations dragged on, hundreds of GEO members rallied to demand better pay and health care, resulting in a contract settlement in July 2006 that won substantial raises and health care subsidies.
2006 – 2008 – With our first contract signed, we focused on making sure it was fully implemented across campus. Some initial major successes included forcing the university to pay people on time who used to wait up to 4 months to get their first paycheck, forcing some departments to actually pay people the negotiated minimum stipends and 3% raises, providing dental appointments from the beginning of employment, and we succeeded in our famous Dragon Dollars grievance where we forced UIC to pay grad employees in real U.S. dollars and never in company script. Separate from contract enforcement, through public pressure campaigns, we succeeded in dramatically reducing the cost of contraceptives by 300%, and we started fighting tuition differential fees with a rally of over 200 grads protesting in the quad and marching to UH. Due to the large protest, we succeeded in getting some TD fees frozen and forcing departments to be honest about the fees by reissuing offer letters. Also, through public pressure we got waivers for newly created fees like the $200 AFMA “elevator” fee, and the $200 Library Technology Fee which are not contractually guaranteed. Most importantly, we vastly increased GEO membership and activism in preparation for bargaining our second contract.
2008-2010Over the past two school years, we were gearing up for bargaining our second contract and then involved in negotiations with university administration. We met with members from all over campus during office visits, focus groups, and membership meetings to build a bargaining platform based on the priorities of grads from across campus. We hosted the Alliance of Graduate Employee Locals conference with grad employees traveling in from around the country to help build the graduate employee labor movement. UIC grad volunteers helped campaign for Barack Obama in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana with success in all four states. Additionally UIC GEO spearheaded a campuswide student, community, and worker coalition to bring people together in anticipation of bargaining and fighting other major campus budget cuts. The coalition, named United in Campaign Against Budget Cuts (UIC-ABC) succeeded in nearly freezing tuition (just 1% per year) and in saving nearly 90 UIC clerical staff from being bumped or laid off. We entered negotiations with the university in April of 2009 and concluded them April of 2010. The GEO won a guarantee of tuition waivers, increased stipends, increased health care contributions, guaranteed on-time pay, greater transparency in the hiring process, and increased transparency in the tuition differential process.
2010 and beyond- During the 2010-2011 school year, the GEO plans to focus on enforcing the contract we just won, and taking advantage of the tuition differential and health care meetings we won with administration. These meetings are our opportunity to continue the dialog with the university about what is fair for graduate employees. We need everyone’s involvement to make these meetings a success, so if you care about affordable access to higher education and want to see tuition differentials abolished, contact your departmental steward today! If access to quality health care is what you are most passionate about, let your steward know so you can get involved in our health care campaign!
All teaching assistants and graduate assistants at UIC with appointments between 25-67% have a portion of their paycheck deducted to go to the GEO. Assistants who sign a yellow GEO membership card are considered members, and their deductions are for membership dues. Assistants who do not sign a yellow membership card are not members, but are still considered to be part of the bargaining unit, and their deduction is a Fair Share fee. Read the following FAQ for more information about dues and Fair Share fees.
What is Fair Share?
Fair Share is the fee paid by graduate employees in the GEO bargaining unit who are not members of the GEO. All employees in the bargaining unit pay the same amount whether they are card-signing members of the GEO or not. Fair Share is based on the idea that all employees in the bargaining unit benefit from the contracts negotiated by union, whether they are members or not, so all employees in the bargaining unit should bear the costs of union representation. Labor laws in Illinois allows unions to collect Fair Share Fees to pay for these costs. Fair share is not a membership fee; it is a fee that pays for the costs of contract negotiation, contract implementation, and contract enforcement, all of which benefit all employees in the bargaining unit.
Why doesn’t the GEO just refuse to represent non-members?
As the certified representative of graduate employees at UIC, the GEO is required by law to provide services to all employees in the bargaining unit, whether they are union members or not.
Why should I become a member of the GEO if everyone pays the same amount anyway?
Becoming a member of GEO by signing a yellow membership card gives you more say in the union’s decisions. Only members can vote on GEO issues like approving the budget, electing the steering committee, and approving actions like a strike. Non-members who are in the bargaining unit reap the benefits of union representation, but do not get a say in union decisions. Because both groups pay the same amount either way, it is only to your benefit to sign a card and make your voice heard.
What are the costs of union representation?
The GEO belongs to the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, and pays dues for these memberships. Through these memberships, the GEO gains access to resources that strengthen our union, such as the expertise of their staff and strike loan assistance in the event of a strike. The GEO also has costs related to contract negotiations, work actions, and contract enforcement.
What other expenses do fair share fees and dues pay?
In order to do the day-to-day work of running the union, including planning work actions, handling grievances, and bargaining our contract, the GEO has hired two experienced union organizers whose expertise guides us through these complex tasks. The GEO staff works in an office space paid for by the GEO. This office also provides a place for members and leadership to meet for training and planning. The GEO leadership does NOT earn any money for the work they do – the GEO leadership is made up entirely of volunteers.
How much are Fair Share fees and dues?
Because Fair Share fees and dues are determined on a percentage basis, the exact deduction from each employee’s paycheck will not be the same. The current deduction percentage is 2%.
What has collective bargaining accomplished?
As a result of the GEO’s most recent contract negotiations, graduate employees have won pay raises, higher contributions to health care costs, a guarantee of tuition waivers, a say in tuition differential policy, more transparent appointment procedures, better grievance procedures, and much more.
Are there any circumstances under which one may be exempt from the fee?
According to Illinois laws, there are some cases in which members of the bargaining unit may be declared objectors. Objectors are typically required to pay an amount equivalent the Fair Share fee to a charity. If you have questions regarding the process of becoming an objector, please contact the GEO office.
Are Fair Share fees tax deductible?
Fair share fees may be tax deductible. You should always consult a tax advisor for the most accurate information about what is deductible.
How are Fair Share fees and dues paid?
Fair Share fees and dues are automatically deducted from your paycheck every month. The university deducts the appropriate amount from your paycheck and remits the money to the GEO.