Today was our 30th bargaining session, the 8th since our strike began. The meeting lasted 8 hours. The progress from yesterday’s session continued today, finally leading to GEO and the university reaching a tentative contract agreement. However, as Dawn explained in an email a few minutes ago, the administration said they couldn’t negotiate or settle on the terms of ending the strike tonight, so therefore we have to remain on strike.
Here is a summary of what was secured for the contract at today’s session:
  • A 3-year contract instead of a 4-year contract
  • A $2,550 increase to the campus minimum salary over 3 years, the largest raise in GEO history. This includes the current academic year’s raise, which is $815, which will be paid retroactively to anyone currently covered by the GEO contract making the campus minimum (it will appear in our May paycheck).
  • Starting next fall, the International Student Fee will be reduced in half, so international grad workers will pay $65 each semester instead of $135
  • The planned $50-per-semester increase to the General Fee starting next year will be offset with a $55-per-semester increase to all TAs’ and GAs’ pay, in addition to our regular wage increase, regardless of whether they make the campus minimum. This offset will be front-loaded, paid out in October and February, both next academic year and the following academic year.
  • To further offset the economic impact of the General Fee, in academic year 2020-2021, all TAs and GAs will get an additional $150 regardless of whether they make the campus minimum.
  • The amount we pay for the cost of Campus Care will be reduced from $295/semester to $240/semester this year (if you already paid, you will be credited the difference in your student account), $250/semester next year, and $260/semester in 2020-21. So we will continue paying less than we currently pay even as the Campus Care fee increases next year.
  • For the first time, the university will cover part of the cost of dependent care coverage on Campus Care. The university will cover 20% of the cost of 1 dependent, and 10% for additional dependents.
  • Departments with 10 or more TAs, GAs, or any combination thereof can’t deny GEO access to departmental orientations. This way, the union can inform new grad workers of their rights under the contract, tell them about GEO, and ask them to become members to ensure the union remains strong.
These are all in addition to the things GEO has already won in contract language, including but not limited to a requirement that departments will establish written guidelines on appointment decisions by Fall 2020, and new anti-discrimination language to include citizenship/immigration status and arrest record. Also, it’s important to note that there are no concessions from the union on existing contract language– in other words, we only won new rights and protections and didn’t lose anything we previously had.
This is a tentative agreement pending ratification by the membership. Members will have an opportunity to read the full contract and vote on whether to ratify it. We will have more details soon about when and where the vote will take place.
But until we can secure an agreement on ending the strike and allowing us to make up any lost pay, we will remain on strike tomorrow.

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.

Today was our 28th bargaining session, the sixth since the strike began.

As mentioned in yesterday’s bargaining update, today’s session was proposed to GEO at the last minute, so we agreed to only meet for an hour. The administration told us they still will not consider waiving, capping, or freezing fees, except to offset the planned $50-per-semester increase to the General Fee with a matching increase to the campus minimum wage next year only. They also didn’t offer us any new proposal on wages or healthcare.
We informed them this wasn’t acceptable, and we did not schedule another meeting. Continuing their game of tag over who gave the last proposal, they asked us to stay an extra 15 minutes so they could give us the exact same proposal they gave us yesterday, before leaving. We then emailed them our same proposal from today, reminding them the ball is still in their court so there would be no confusion.
This game of “who handed the last proposal” is juvenile and inane. The reality is that we are on strike and will remain on strike until the administration takes serious action on both fees and wages, and the admins already know this very well. The people who get paid handsome sums of money to run this university have the responsibility and the authority to end this strike by giving us a fair contract, but they simply refuse to do it.
Further, it was recently brought to our attention that the administration is telling department heads to urge faculty to take on the duties of grad workers. This has already resulted in some department heads sending out innocuous-sounding emails over the last couple days asking if there’s anything they can do to support TAs or their students. This is obviously strikebreaking, but the administration is describing it as “serving our undergraduates.” But undergrads have overwhelmingly expressed their support for our strike and have directly asked the chancellor and provost to settle a fair contract. If admins really want to serve the undergraduates, they should start listening to them.
This Monday, April 1st, marks GEO’s return to regular picket lines after spring break (updated logistics document here).  On Monday, we’ll have a rally in the quad at 12 followed by a free performance at 12:15 by striking musicians with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra outside the Science and Engineering Laboratory (SEL).
Everyone should return to the regular shifts they signed up for before we went on strike as well as come out for shifts at any other times they can make it.  This week will be crucial to our success!
In solidarity,
GEO Bargaining Team