Today we met with the administration for our 29th bargaining session, the 7th since the strike began. For the first time, Provost Poser joined the administration’s negotiating team. The session lasted 9 hours.
GEO members completely packed the room, to the point it was standing-room-only and several people had to stand in the hallways. Clearly feeling the pressure of our strike and the packing of the room, the administration finally made some serious movement on the issue of fees. It is important to remember that at UIC, we pay a higher percentage of our salary in fees than grad workers at many other universities. They offered to waive half of the International Student Fee, which would be a big victory for GEO. On the General Fee, both sides had a dialogue about providing fee relief in the form of an increase to our pay. The administration offered to offset the planned $50 increase to the General Fee by paying all TAs and GAs an additional $55 at the beginning of each semester. They also offered to waive any new fee created during the life of the contract, at least until the contract expires.
This is good progress, and absolutely none of it would have happened if we hadn’t been on strike for all this time. We also started having what seemed like a productive discussion on other outstanding issues, including the length of the contract and the GEO’s right to not be turned away from departmental orientations to inform new grad workers of their rights and keep our union strong.
We hoped to continue discussing these issues, as well as wages and healthcare, for the sake of progressing the negotiations. However, the provost framed the administration’s movement on fees as a gift, and told us we would need to accept a 4-year contract, give up on our proposal on access to orientations, give up on our proposal to have the university cover some of the cost of dependent care in Campus Care, give up on our proposal having the university provide the union with an office space, and step down by 7 percent on our most recent wage proposal.
All of this would be in addition to things we’ve already conceded on, including full fee waivers, the ability to opt out of the CTA U-Pass fee, more paid sick days, more paid personal days, more paid parental leave, stronger tuition waiver language, getting compensated for late appointment letters, having an article on academic freedom, and stepping down repeatedly on our wage proposal. We have made numerous concessions over the course of the past 13 months, illustrating our ongoing willingness to negotiate in good faith.
Therefore, the administration’s insistence tonight that we concede even further in exchange for their movement on fees was not considered acceptable to the majority of the many members in the room. We gave them an offer that made significant movement on fees to try to meet the administration in the middle. We accepted the administration’s framework to offset the General Fee through an increase to our pay, stepping down from our earlier stance to have it partially waived. We also gave up on our proposal for the university to provide the union with an office space. In addition, we stepped down on wages by the same dollar amount that they moved up for the life of the contract.
When we gave the administration this offer, several GEO members in the room who are not on the bargaining team gave personal testimony for why we are not prepared to give up on more of our proposals. They also spoke to their concerns with some of the condescending ways the administration interacted with us today. However, we also acknowledged that we made progress in negotiations today and we look forward to continuing to do so. We’re still scheduling our next bargaining session, which will be by the end of this week, as well as planning to support the student walkout on Friday. After today’s progress, we feel there’s the potential for finally resolving this strike soon. At the same time, if we still don’t have a contract by this Saturday, we plan to hand out flyers at UIC’s undergraduate recruitment events this Friday and Saturday. In the meantime, join us on the pickets.