Dear Colleagues,

As many of you may know, our most recent bargaining session was on Tuesday, August 14. Greg Sutliff from the Philosophy Dept. represented the GEO. I am pleased to say the session went well, and that we were able to continue to make incremental progress toward a new contract.

Most significantly, we reached a tentative agreement with the university concerning those articles of our contract that govern employee discipline and the employee-grievance procedure. While, with respect to employee discipline, the parties agreed only to some minor changes for the sake of clarity and readability, we were able to implement some important improvements in the section of the contract that governs grievances. For example, we persuaded the university to accept a longer timetable (30 business days instead of 30 calendar days) for the initial filing of a grievance. This will give our members no less than twelve additional days to initiate a grievance through the Union if they cannot resolve a work-related issue informally with their supervisor, ensuring that grievances do not go unheard because of an excessively short deadline to file.

Reaching an agreement on the above issues has freed us up us to tackle other matters. For instance, the GEO and the university have exchanged counterproposals on several other contract provisions, including those that provide for employees’ sick leave, bereavement leave, and parental leave (provisions which we are seeking to expand), and those that restrict GEO members from taking part in labor-actions such as strikes. On Tuesday, Greg also discussed with the university’s representatives objections that the GEO has raised to certain language in our contract, which places restrictions on those grad employees who seek additional employment outside the university. Grad employees have a right to support themselves with outside employment, but rather than affirming this right, our current contract singles these employees out for special scrutiny from their supervisor(s) and from within their academic program. Consequently, we will continue to push for language that protects the rights of grad employees with outside jobs.

To date, we’ve made significant progress toward a new, fairer contract, but with so much still on the table the bargaining process is only beginning. Many of the issues that GEO members are most concerned about, including bread-and-butter financial issues, have yet to be discussed. Although we are seeing some signs that the university will be ready to begin tackling these financial matters in the near future, we will continue to press them until we see an actual reply to the GEO’s financial proposals, which have been on the table—and awaiting a response—since May of this year.

The involvement of GEO members will make a huge impact in the coming weeks. It is vital that the university see how invested our members are in seeing negotiations on the remaining portions of the contract concluded on a timely basis. Keep in mind that the term of our existing contract has already expired as of this week. Our next bargaining session is on Wednesday, August 22. This is your chance to show the university that a fair and prompt resolution to the bargaining process is important to you. We’ll be meeting with the university’s representatives in the Monarch Room of Student Center East, from 1 to 5 PM. I hope you’ll be there.

In solidarity,

Caleb Hardner

GEO Bargaining Chair

Yesterday, the GEO met with the university administration for our eighth bargaining session. Much of our time was spent discussing matters pertaining to our grievance procedure (Article XXII) and the procedures for discipline and dismissal (Article XXI). Though we did not reach any formal agreements during the session, we will likely formally agree on the language for these two articles in the first few minutes of our next session (8/14 at 12:00, room TBA). The most significant change that we will almost certainly agree upon is that the deadline for filing a grievance will be extended from 30 calendar days to 30 business days, giving our members more time to take notice of work-related problems and to determine whether or not they wish to file a formal grievance.

Though a significant amount of progress has been made with regard to several portions of our contract, a large amount remains to be negotiated. In particular, we have yet to discuss any of the monetary issues addressed in our contract. This includes wages, tuition waivers, and fees (including tuition differentials), the issues that were revealed to be of most importance to you in the membership survey. We made proposals on all of these matters in our first session, but the administration has thus far resisted discussing them. We have at every session urged the administration to begin discussing these items with us, and will continue to do so, but the university will move faster if they feel the pressure from more of our members.

Our next bargaining session will be next Tuesday from 12:00-3:30, and we will likely come to an agreement with regard to the grievance procedure and discipline and dismissal articles, and then discuss matters relating to management rights, hours, class sizes, additional employment, union rights, and our ability to strike.

Next week’s session is particularly significant because it is the last session before our current contract expires on August 16th. We will likely be working without a contract as we enter into the fall semester, and it will be necessary to pressure the university so that we can come to agreement on our new contract as soon as possible.  So what can you do?  Come to the bargaining session next Tuesday, August 14th, at 12 pm to have your voice heard.

By: Aleks Zarnitsyn

Editor’s Note: This week’s post is by guest blogger Aleks Zarnitsyn of UIC’s Philosophy program. Aleks examines our current contract to discover what guarantees it secures for grad employees who are also parents, and assesses some of our options for improving working conditions for grad employee moms and dads. This post is a follow-up to Molly McGown’s post about her experiences as a grad employee mother.

Grad students are human, for the most part. Despite various warning, humans, including grad students, procreate.

What parental rights does the GEO contract guarantee?

Your Bare Minimum: two weeks of parental leave without loss of pay immediately following the birth of a child.

This bare minimum does not apply to you if you have not held an active appointment for at least 6 months. Suppose you give birth in during the finals week of your first semester of graduate school. You are not entitled to the bare minimum. Suppose you have a baby in January and you are just starting your second semester of grad school. You are still not entitled to the bare minimum! Assuming that regular appointments start in the middle of August, you are not eligible until mid-February. (Piece of advice: time it very well!)

Only TWO weeks, folks! It should be obvious YOUR and YOUR CHILD’S health requires MORE time. (If you are not convinced, read up on what the first two weeks of maternity are like, or talk to any mother.)

What to do:

1.    Do not have children in grad school. (This option is not on the table when negotiating the next contract. It simply avoids the discussion of the University’s responsibilities to its employees who have children.)

2.    Demand that the 6-month active appointment requirement for parental leave be waived. (The restriction does not make sense in our context and should be eliminated.)

3.    Advocate better maternity leave next time we negotiate our contract, a process which will begin in 2011-12 school year.

Grads at UIUC, through our sister union, UIUC GEO, negotiated a 6-week “parental accommodation” period that is more flexible. Graduate employees at UIUC are entitled to a combination of the 2-week paid bare minimum, combined with 2-week paid sick leave, combined with 2-week unpaid leave approved upon request. See details of their contract here: http://www.uigeo.org/contract/

That is an improvement over your bare minimum, but it could be even better. UIC is subject to the Federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. It provides employees with 12 weeks unpaid leave for each consecutive 12-month period for which eligibility criteria have been met. Eligible individuals are those who have been employed by the University for at least 12 months and who have performed at least 1,250 hours of service during the previous 12-month period.  (Source) If you are on a 50% appointment, you are unlikely to meet the hourly requirement to take advantage of FMLA. But the University could agree to extend FMLA-type benefits to grads by waiving the eligibility requirements. Even supposing we could get that, FMLA provides for UNPAID leave.

A further option is to bargain for paid 12-weeks leave. Obviously, the government recognizes that having maternity leave is a matter of social justice. We can begin to make sure that the university acknowledge this as such.

What about parental benefits beyond leave?

Suppose you have a child despite the warnings about the difficulties. During this difficult time, your contract guarantees the full coverage of the health service fee and full access to Family Medicine Center, Wellness Center, The Counseling Center, The Pharmacy Services, which is currently $100 per semester, and which is waived by the GEO contract. This fee waiver covers basic health services and visits to the Family Medicine Center. Most graduate employees also purchase the CampusCare health benefit as well, at a cost of $276 per semester (the premium is $401 per semester, but last year, GEO won a $125 per semester subsidy for the premium).

But this coverage is only for the student. Enrolled students may sign their children up for CampusCare, but the university provides no subsidy for the additional $538 per semester CampusCare fee. And CampusCare does not pro-rate its premiumx, so even if your child is born during the last week of the semester, you are liable for the entire $538 CampusCare premium.

Graduate employees seeking to cover themselves and one child for one semester can expect to pay $814 in health insurance premiums. The university contributes only $225 per semester in the spring and fall semester to graduate employee health insurance costs, and contributes $0 in the summer.

What other benefits does UIC provide for graduate employees who are parents?

There are some rooms on-campus, designated for young mothers, which is better than nothing, if you have to bring your child to school.

If your child is two years and nine months old, you use UIC’s Children’s Center. (http://www.uic.edu/depts/children/) The current fee range is 86 to 208 dollars per week, and “fees are on a sliding scale based upon each family’s gross income before taxes and other financial resources, such as child support, financial aid, savings, assistance by other family members, incomes from rental property, etc.” (source)

Even at the current lowest rate, the center may cost you 350 dollars a month, which is a very substantial part of your graduate employee income. What can we do?

The university could agree to sponsor assistants’ children at a lower rate, or at no cost. The university could agree to put the limit on the sliding of the scale for the assistants. GEO has in the past asked an assistant’s childcare fee not exceed 5% of the assistant’s salary, but the university has so far not agreed to this.

Conclusion:
At the very least, we should bargain for extending the parental leave for ALL graduate students to paid 6 weeks and possibly to unpaid 12 weeks. Additionally, we should try to secure the limit on the sliding scale for the assistants using the UIC Children’s Center.

These are small concessions to ask from the administration that depends on our work. This work cannot be done at the expense of the health of the families of the assistants. There should be little financial incentive for the university to resist such changes, primarily because very few grad students decide to have children while in graduate school. Moreover, the university community will only benefit by securing these obvious rights for its employees.

Luckily, graduate employees at UIC are represented by a union. This means that we have a binding contract with the university that details the terms and conditions of our employment, but also that our contract is only as good as we make it.

On September 27, GEO will hold its first-ever Teach-In. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and professor of English at UIUC, will provide a keynote – but the event is really about our union and our work here in Chicago. To win the benefits we deserve, such as better benefits for parents, GEO members must work together. On September 27, we will get together to begin to decide how we can make our third contract the best one yet – what do we want? – how can we get it? – what are we willing to do? I hope to see you there.