1. GEO Calendar

2. I’m in a hurry. What do I need to know?




1. Calendar

TODAY, April 1, 5:00 PM: GEO EMERGENCY STRIKE MEETING, room 302 SCE.TODAY AND TOMORROW, April 1-2: Online Voting. Details forthcoming.MONDAY, April 5, 8:00 AM: GEO TUITION WAIVER AND DIFFERENTIAL RALLY, campus side SCE

2. Summary

Teaching and Graduate Assistants represented by the Graduate Employees Organization have the right to strike under Illinois and Federal laws. The GEO asks that members withhold their labor and not cross picket lines, that undergraduates and faculty join us in solidarity, and that faculty move their classes off-campus or cancel them. Help keep GEO members off the picket lines and in the classroom by joining our email campaign: http://xrl.us/bg28yt. Read below for more detailed information.



At last Friday’s mediation session, the university’s Chief Negotiator, Tom Riley, agreed to call us on Wednesday to present us with counter-offers to some of the proposals we had not yet agreed on. Unfortunately, the university brought nothing new to the table concerning guaranteeing tuition waivers or giving graduate employees a say in tuition differentials.

We communicated to the university’s Chief Negotiator that we were concerned that their proposal on tuition waivers allowed for a variety of practices that would reduce or eliminate waivers for graduate employees. If we agree to their proposed tuition waiver and differential language, our waivers would be less secure, and we still wouldn’t have any say in tuition differentials.


Because the university did not indicate a willingness to guarantee our tuition waivers or give us a say in tuition differentials, we must now seriously consider a strike as a way to communicate how much we care about these issues to the administration. The GEO has been receiving many questions about how a strike would work, and we plan to fully inform our members at today’s EMERGENCY STRIKE MEETING at 5 pm in room 302 of SCE (note room change). In the meantime, here is some information that will help explain what your rights are as a worker and how a strike would work.

Q: Is it legal for graduate employees to strike?

Yes. If we go on strike, it will be a legal strike. All Teaching and Graduate Assistants whose appointments are between .25 and .67 FTE may legally withhold their labor when the GEO leadership calls a strike.

Q: Who can strike?

Anyone who is currently a Teaching Assistant or a Graduate Assistant between 0.25 and 0.67 FTE may legally withhold their labor. Research Assistants MAY NOT withhold labor, but we ask that RAs walk the picket lines in solidarity with us before and after their work hours.

If you have a question about whether you are legally able to withhold your labor, don’t guess — please call the GEO office or email GEO organizing staff at staff@uic-geo.net to confirm that you are legally allowed to strike if you have any questions.

Q: Do I teach or assist classes or perform my GA duties in the event of a strike?

No. Strike participants should not do any work associated with their jobs as Teaching or Graduate Assistants. We will be withholding our labor in these capacities as a tactic to show the university how valuable we are to the UIC community, and how UIC can’t work unless we do. Our goal during a strike would be to shut down as many classes, offices, and other workplaces as possible so that we can have a strategic, targeted effect on university operations. The more grads who participate in a strike, the shorter it will be.

Q: Should I continue to attend and do work for my own classes?

Yes. We will only be withholding labor related to our status as GAs or TAs. You should still do all of work associated with your own graduate courses.

We hope that faculty members will agree to cancel classes or move them off campus in solidarity with the GEO to prevent people from crossing picket lines. Talk to your professors about the possibility of a strike to let them know that if they continue to hold classes as normal, they will be crossing a picket line, and asking their students to cross a picket line. Ask if they are willing to consider moving their classes to an off-campus location if they are not willing to cancel them.

Q: Can I go inside picketed buildings to get things from my office during a strike?

No. Striking graduate employees should get everything they think they might need from their offices before the strike begins to avoid crossing picket lines. Keep faculty in your department informed about strike plans as well so they can also avoid crossing picket lines to retrieve items or for any other reasons.

Q: Can the university dock my pay? How much?

Yes. The university may only dock the pay of graduate employees who withhold their labor. For example, if you withhold your labor and walk the picket lines during one hour that you were scheduled to teach a class, the university may dock you for one hour of pay.

The burden of proof is on the university to show that you missed work because you were on strike. The administration may ask faculty and students to report their TAs and GAs. Please talk with your students and faculty, and ask them not to report you for any missed work, and to explain to them the reasons that we are on strike. Ask them to walk the picket lines in solidarity with us, and that they honor picket lines by not crossing them.

Q: What can the GEO do to help me if the university docks my pay?

The university has the legal right to dock the pay of employees who withhold their labor, but they can only dock pay for the hours the employee would have been working. In order to do this, the university would have to determine which grad employees withheld their labor, which will be difficult for them to do. Graduate employees have no obligation to self-report whether they withheld labor, even if the university asks.

In the event that the university does dock anyone’s pay, the GEO has set aside a $50,000 Strike Fund to assist employees who experience hardship as a result of their lost pay. In addition, in the event that a strike would continue beyond five days, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) provides interest-free loans to striking employees.

Q: Can the university retaliate against me for participating in a strike?

No. Retaliation against striking employees is illegal under Illinois and federal laws. GEO will aggressively pursue each reported case of retaliation. If, for example you don’t get an assistantship next fall and you expected to get one, please contact the union immediately to discuss your case. Even if you are not sure whether you are retaliated against for going on strike, you should contact the union.

Union activity is protected under Illinois and federal laws. The more visible you are as a union activist and supporter, the more protected you are against retaliation. The more visibly active you are in participating in the strike, the more protected you are against retaliation.

Q: How can I sign up to walk picket lines?

Please sign up for picket shifts. To do so, talk to your departmental steward to fill out a picket signup form. If you don’t know your steward or don’t have one, contact the GEO Strike Committee at strike@uic-geo.net to sign up, or call the GEO office any time at 312-491-1808.

Please sign up for as many picket shifts as possible. To win a strike, we need hundreds of GEO members on the lines all day.

Q: Where can I get more information?

The GEO website is an excellent resource, and we encourage you to direct your students and faculty members there for more information. You can also ask your departmental steward, email us at geo@uic-geo.net, or call the GEO office at 312-491-1808.

You may have seen the email this morning from John Loya, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and R. Michael Tanner, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, regarding contract negotiations between the GEO and the UIC administration. We are writing to clarify some of their points.

Through the use of federal mediation, the union and the university have come to agreement on several important provisions, including clearer and more timely appointment letters, improvements in class size contract language, and more transparency in departmental appointment and re-appointment criteria. We’re happy that we have come closer to agreement on many of these outstanding issues. The university’s recent offer of greater subsidies for health care is also step in the right direction, but we are well aware that these subsidies cannot provide greater economic security if the administration retains the right to offset them by diminishing our tuition waivers and increasing tuition differentials.

Given that reality, we wondered why Loya and Tanner’s email mentioned nothing about the key outstanding issues that the GEO is negotiating for: tuition waiver security, and a say in tuition differentials. After a year of negotiations, the UIC administration must know that these are the major issues for GEO members, and that waivers and differentials remain the issues that GEO members are considering striking over.

Given that securing tuition waivers would cost the university nothing, their appeals to the University’s financial hardship are disingenuous at best. In fact, we are well aware of the university’s hardship, and this is the reason that it is so important for us to protect what we have now.

The university’s most recent proposal on waivers and differentials would be a step backward, and would make our waivers less secure than they are, and do nothing to give us a say in tuition differentials. If we accepted their proposed contract language on waivers and differentials, departments would be able to grant partial waivers, limit waivers to certain classes of students (such as only granting waivers to PhD students), or otherwise restrict waivers in ways that would threaten our future here at UIC.

The GEO bargaining team remains committed to reaching an agreement with the university which includes tuition waiver protection and gives us a say in tuition differentials on Monday.

Remember that we will deliver this message at our RALLY on Monday at 8:00 AM on the campus side of Student Center East. We know 8:00 is an early time for a rally, but this is our last opportunity to keep grads at UIC off the picket lines and in the classroom, so please come ready to chant and cheer in support of a contract for grad employees which includes tuition waiver protection and gives us a say in tuition differentials. Invite your undergraduates and faculty members to rally with us.

Also come to the EMERGENCY STRIKE MEETING today at 5:00 PM in SCE room 302 to cast your vote on whether GEO members will go on strike next week. Online voting will be available this afternoon, with instructions forthcoming.

We’ve been asked a lot why it is so important to secure tuition waivers and put an end to increasing tuition differentials in our contract now. The reason is simple: if we don’t secure these things in the contract now, we will not have the ability to protect GEO members from any attempts to cut tuition waivers or increase or implement new tuition differentials in the future.

Q: What if we agree to a contract that does not protect tuition waivers?

The university will have a free hand to change its waiver policy and cut waivers however, and wherever they want, and at any time.

Q: But they wouldn’t cut our waivers, right?

Last year, at UIUC, the administration proposed that all graduate employees with less than a 33% appointment would lose tuition waivers.

The UIUC GEO successfully fought back by organizing and by winning a contract that protected tuition waivers. The proposal UIC presented on waivers during mediation on March 26 would serve only to make waivers less secure than they are now.

Q: What about tuition differentials?

The administration has not yet provided us with a counterproposal regarding tuition differentials. They have simply rejected our proposal. This means that the university can continue to implement and increase tuition differentials at any time, with no input from graduate students. The GEO believes that graduate students should have a say in tuition differentials. A contract that guarantees tuition waivers but allows the university to increase differentials arbitrarily and with no warning poses an economic threat to graduate students who are trying to complete their education at UIC.

Q: How will UIC attract quality graduate students if they cut tuition waivers and increase tuition differentials?

If the university decides to cut tuition waivers, it might not be an “all or nothing” affair. They may grant 80% waivers, hoping that graduate employees would pay 20% of their tuition so they don’t have to transfer to finish their degrees. They also might grant all incoming graduate employees full waivers, and then only partially waive tuition in subsequent years, a practice that may encourage top-notch graduate students to finish their education elsewhere. Or they might only grant tuition waivers to PhD students, which is a practice some departments have already instituted. Additionally, tuition differentials could prevent students from finishing their education at UIC because they can be implemented or increased at any time, with no warning.

The truth is that we don’t know the administration’s plans regarding tuition waivers and differentials. We only know that during nearly a year of contract negotiations, the UIC administration has not agreed to secure tuition waivers or give grads a say in tuition differentials. Because of this, we’re worried that the administration does have some long term plans to cut or reduce tuition waivers and to continue increasing tuition differentials.

No matter their plans, the only way to protect our education is to protect our tuition waivers right now and to fight for a way to give graduate students a say in what happens with tuition differentials.

Q: The GEO said that the UIC administration’s proposal about tuition waivers make waivers less secure than they are now. Why?

Currently, tuition waivers are given to all graduate employees holding between .25% and .67% FTE appointments. At mediation on March 26, the administration proposed tuition waiver language that would allow individual departments to set the terms of those waivers. Additionally, for the first time, they proposed that tuition waiver policies could “vary” between departments, meaning that, unlike now, it would be possible for departments to supplement their budgets by introducing fractional tuition waivers.

Graduate employees now know that if they get a waiver, it will be a full waiver. If we agree to the administration’s proposal introduced on March 26, it would open the door to partial waivers, waivers only for certain types of students, or the abolition of waivers in certain departments.

Q: What’s next?

Thursday, April 1, 5-7 pm in SCE 329: Attend the GEO’s EMERGENCY STRIKE MEETING to decide whether we will continue to fight to secure tuition waivers and do something about skyrocketing tuition differentials.

Monday, April 5, 8-10 am outside of SCE: Attend a RALLY DEMANDING A FAIR CONTRACT that will occur in conjunction with our mediation session that day.

In the meantime, we must keep up the pressure to grant graduate employees a fair contract immediately. That means sending letters to the administration (use our online form at http://xrl.us/bgfowe), coming to our planned rally on the 5th, and talking with your colleagues to encourage them to do the same.

To help in other ways, contact Jes Cook, GEO Organizing Chair, at organizing@uic-geo.net or Jayson Anton, Strike Committee Chair atjay2165@gmail.com.