Bargaining Updates

GEO Bargaining Updates: April 13, 2021 – Present

Thirty-Seventh Session: April 25th, 2022

We bargained for 9 hours yesterday and really laid it all out on the line. We have never been on strike for the sake of being on strike. It has always been to get a fair contract, and we tried hard to reach agreement. The session ended with everything in their court. We believe we are close to settling this contract, but the university very well could blow this whole thing up with how they respond next.

Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment: We have TA’d this. Last session they threatened to withhold it, holding protections for survivors in exchange for whatever they can get for it. We’re glad they abandoned their heartlessness and put it back on the table to TA. We cannot overstate how important this language is to us, and we are relieved to have it settled.

Wages: We came to an agreement at $22,590 in year 1, but remain far apart in the remaining years. The university is proposing 2% raises in each subsequent year for wages of $23,040 in year 2 and $23,500 in year 3. We’re currently asking for 6% raises in each subsequent year for wages of $23,945 in year 2 and $25,382 in year 3. When we first entertained the idea of a contract ending in 2025, we made it abundantly clear that members hated the idea and would only accept it if we offset the uncertainty of a later contract with higher wages. The university hasn’t moved at all from their 2%/2% structure since. We told them very directly that if they don’t make the calls they have to make to offer more than measly 2% raises, they would have squandered our good will and we will be returning to our proposals for contracts that end in 2024. The university must hear the demands of our members if they’re going to come in from strike.

Healthcare & Fees: We have settled dependent care: UIC will now cover 25% of the dependent care cost regardless of how many dependents someone has, up from 20% for first dependents and 10% for second dependents. We believe this will have a huge impact for those affected and are pleased to have it settled. We have otherwise returned the CampusCare cost to the status quo $260 per semester; the university continues to try to increase it to $285 after year 2. In fees, we decided to trust the university when they signaled what they couldn’t do. We’ve heard many times that they can’t do what they later go on to do, but in a show of good faith, we took them at their word and stepped down to an international fee of $65 and removed reference to tuition differentials.

Retro Pay: We have settled on $2000 retro pay for the past year or $1000 for the past semester. The university gave us a guarantee that if we settle this contract by midnight Monday, they’ll be able to guarantee those sums to everyone in the bargaining unit. We agreed to that deadline, but let us be clear: we agreed to this for the university’s sake. We still fully believe that the language we had previously was sound and ensured retro pay regardless of the university’s lethargy. We are happy to blow through their deadline, return to simpler retro pay language and a 2024 contract, and continue to escalate this strike until we win what we have set out to win.

We resume bargaining at 11:00 today. We hope we can settle this contract today, but the onus is on the university to make the movement on wages they have to make to bring us in from strike. If the university blows up this deal so close to the finish line, we must be ready to fight harder and longer. Come on out to our rally 12:00-1:00 and Civil Disobedience training with CTU 3:00-5:00, and as always, come picket any time 9:00-12:00 and 1:00-4:00.

Thirty-Fourth, Thirty-Fifth, & Thirty-Sixth Sessions: April 20th, April 21st, April 22nd

With three bargaining sessions in three days and picketing and rallying on top, I hope you’ll forgive us for not getting out bargaining updates after each session. The long and the short of it is that after a week of strike and four consecutive days of bargaining, only one issue has been removed from the table: we have agreed to a task force to work towards expanding the availability of 9 month appointments. Otherwise, we remain far apart on wages and fees, and non-discrimination remains critically unsettled. Here’s where everything stands:

Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment: We believe this language is settled and the university seems to too. However, that has not stopped them from holding it over our heads. On Friday they passed us a package proposal in which they would only TA this article if we withdrew our No Lockout proposal and added that if we did not, they would tie Non-Discrimination to something else in the future. They are holding protections for survivors hostage until we give in to their demands; they are threatening to take back these critically important changes if we don’t play their bargaining game of horse trading. It is despicable.

Retro Pay: The university calls this a “lump sum” and denies that it in any way is retro pay, and yet ties it specifically to whether or not someone taught in AY2021-2022. The university maintains that people who are in the bargaining unit at the time the contract is ratified and signed would get $1750 or $1000 if they worked both or one semester respectively. However, the Board of Trustees signs off on the contract and they don’t meet next until May 19th. The end of everybody’s appointment is May 15th, so per the university’s language, almost nobody would get retro pay. This is absolutely unacceptable to us. We’re currently asking for $2750 or $1325 in retro pay without the language that would screw over 90% of our bargaining unit.`

Duration: If you ever find yourself reading through a labor contract there will be a collection of articles that are decidedly miscellaneous. They stipulate things about the contract itself instead of what the contract is intended to deal with, and they are almost certainly never what you went to the contract to look for. Duration is in this category. And yet, during contract negotiations, Duration has been a major issue for unions bargaining against the U of I system. GEO has historically had 3 year contracts; UIC has historically tried to negotiate us up to longer contracts and (despite UIC having put many wages and healthcare proposals on the table that implicitly had 3 year durations) began putting 4 year contracts on the table. 

The advantage to the university is clear: they’re career administrators; the less often they have to bargain, the less work they have to do. Also, bargaining can be costly when they keep pursuing their union busting strategies and driving us to strike. On the other hand, a 3 year contract is a good length for GEO because of the high turnover rate of people in our bargaining unit. A 3 year contract cycle means people from the last bargaining cycle will be around for the next one, which means we’ll have institutional memory and more people with real bargaining experience in the room. Additionally, there’s an incredible amount of uncertainty right now with inflation so high and no sign of dropping. Members have been adamantly opposed to a contract that ends in 2025. And still the university refuses to present any proposal that has an end date in 2024.

Wages & Fees: In light of the university’s obstinance over Duration, we have spent a lot of time this week grappling with the question, “what would it take for us to accept a contract that ends in 2025?” We were optimistic that this would push negotiations further; either they would hear what we needed and make that movement, or decide it was impossible and then revert to the 2024 end date. As a result, we now have two parallel wage packages on the table–one ending in 2024 with 14.5%, 3%, and 3% raises in each year of the contract, and one ending in 2025 with 10%, 8.5%, and 8.5% raises in each year of the contract with the retro pay described above for the past year. The university has on the table a contract ending in 2025 with 9.4%, 2%, and 2% raises in each year with retro pay for the past year. The biggest movement of the week from the university is that they have moved for the first time on fees: they are now offering to waive $65 of the international fee. This is status quo language from our last contract that they had been trying to take away. We’re glad to see the movement, but international workers deserve better.

Our next bargaining session is Sunday, April 24th, at 2:00pm.

Thirty-Third Session: April 19th, 2022

The university cannot claim to care about the needs of graduate workers or undergrads after that bargaining session. They made no effort to end this strike.

At the start of the session, the mediator called on the university to present a proposal since they had every article to respond to. The university’s response was: “Uhh, what? We thought it was GEO’s turn.” In the four full days since our last bargaining session, we went on strike and the university did absolutely nothing. Their lack of preparation reflects a brazen disregard for the needs of graduate workers and the other members of the community impacted by the strike.

After a hasty caucus, they passed us a package proposal that closely resembled their last pass. 

Wages: They maintained their bizarre 4 year contract structure, including no raise in year 1, but increased the “one time payment” in year 1 by $150. This one-time payment scheme they’re now proposing is nothing more than an attempt to undercut the retro pay you would otherwise get. Otherwise, they made no movement whatsoever on wages.

Fees: They made no movement on fees, maintaining their ridiculous “we reduce the amount of fee relief from your last contract, but if we increase fees you can bargain over that.” We’re at the bargaining table now, and we’re demanding fee relief now.

Healthcare: The one place they made movement was in healthcare; they still want you to pay more in healthcare costs, but at least they’ve decreased the amount by which they’ve increased it! They also reduced the costs of CampusCare for the second dependent someone enrolls from 10% to 15%. This is noteworthy, but marginal. There are less than a dozen people in the bargaining unit to whom this applies, and those people deserve much more than 15%.

Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment: The university has dug in their heels. They refuse to include the union in the process when survivors do not get adequate supportive measures. They want us to just trust them to resolve issues that they create.

No Strike, No Lockout; 8 Week Courses: They continue to not address these issues. It is unclear how they imagine ending the strike when they will make no effort to resolve the issues on the table.

We are on strike because we are not comfortable settling for less than what we’ve put on the table. We know precisely as well as every other graduate worker what a tremendous difference the wages and fee reduction we’re asking for would make in our precarious lives. And so we stayed firm on our financials. However, we preluded our response to the university with member testimonials. Several members spoke about their current financial hardship and why what the university is offering is not enough for them. Here are our notes from the testimony:

Quotes:

  • “OIS itself will tell you that UIC’s stipend is not enough to live in the US” 
  • “As grateful as I am to be here, UIC are not nearly as grateful for the work that I do for the university”
  • “This money isn’t about a bonus… this is about me checking my bank account every day to see if I have money for groceries”
  • “We deserve dignity, and that means a living wage”
  • “How many people in this room are crying & losing it because they just can’t handle it… the economic pressure is insane”
  • “No one’s doing themselves any favors by starving these programs”

Additional valuable points:

  • The mental health impact of living on poverty wages makes it hard to show up for my students 
  • External review found their #1 recommendation is to increase graduate stipend
  • UIC brands itself as being committed to diversity, but this isn’t reflected in their support for grad workers
  • Low wages & economic obstacles mean that 1st gen and other minority community members aren’t reflected in the graduate workforce at UIC
  • During a lockout international students would be stranded with no income

The university “heard” this testimony. They returned to their caucus room and were so moved by these members baring their financial trauma that they came back with a proposal in which they made absolutely no movement whatsoever on wages or fees. They made no movement on Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment, No Strike, No Lockout, or 8 Week Courses. They did not do anything whatsoever to address the testimony that they heard. They did, however, make marginal movement in second dependent coverage and CampusCare fees.

This is not a game to us, where we have to make all the polite, pre-ordained percentage point proposals that the university’s labor lawyers deem appropriate. We’re fighting for what we need to not live in state of constant financial anxiety. Apparently that’s gauche, as the university refuses to bargain unless we play their game.

Come out to the picket lines 9:00-12:00 and 1:00-4:00. We’re bargaining again at 4:00pm on Wednesday, 4/20.

Thirty-Second Session: April 14th, 2022

We bargained for over 12 hours into the middle of the night. It was not enough to avert a strike. We can’t give you the blow-by-blow, but we can summarize the moves that mattered.

Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment: We came with a new pass of our proposal which streamlined the language while maintaining our biggest priorities–accommodations for survivors, language denouncing workplace bullying, and an end to mandated reporting. To our surprise, they came back with a proposal that demonstrated the largest movement they’ve made on any issue in the past year. They included language on accommodations (now called supportive measures) and workplace bullying, but would not end mandated reporting. They admitted openly that it was a matter of liability for the university and its employees. Another issue remained, however. Their language on supportive measures denied the union the right to grieve decisions related to supportive measures. This is unacceptable to us; survivors must have recourse if they do not receive adequate supportive measures. In an effort to compromise, we sought to trade ending mandated reporting in exchange for grievability. This is where we left this.

Wages & Fees: We were so encouraged by the movement in their Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment proposal, we dared to hope that we could settle the contract that very night and avert a strike. We stepped down to asking for $23,707 in the first year (a 15% raise) with 3% raises in the subsequent years and maintained our demand for full fee elimination. The university response was… weird. Despite having had conversations in the past about how we’re both good with a 3 year contract, and despite the fact that every wages proposal of theirs so far has followed the same 3 year format, out of left field they proposed a 4 year contract with no raise in year one but instead a one-time $850 payment to grad workers. This would be equivalent to (the considerably less weird) scheme of a year 1 stipend of $21,465 (4% raise) with 4%, 2% and 2% raises in the subsequent years. They still offered nothing in the way of fee relief. Again, hopeful to settle the contract that night, we put all out on the table and moved off of full fee elimination down to elimination of the International Fee, 90% reduction of tuition differentials, a $50 cap on CampusCare costs, and a $100 cap on the General Fee. The message was that we have to see fee reduction, but we were open to discussing how much. We we were (and perhaps still are) optimistic that this could break the deadlock we’ve had over fees. However, we did not hear a response to this article. After midnight the university asked that we adjourn.

No Strike, No Lockout: We put this on the table again at the start of the session, but the university never responded to it.

8 Week Courses: We put this on the table again as well with the addition of the word “practicable” in it somewhere to make it more flexible for the various departments on campus. The university also never responded to this.

We’ve been in bargaining for over a year now. We’ve met 32 times. In a lot of ways, this session felt like the first time the university really showed up to bargain, but it was too little, too late. There simply weren’t enough hours in the session for us to settle the contract. If they had come to the table in April 2021 with this energy, we could have settled this contract before the last one expired in August. But they don’t move unless we make them, and now we’re making them.

We’ll return to the table at 1:30 Tuesday, but if you can, you should come out to the picket lines 9:00-12:00 and 1:00-4:00 Monday-Friday.

Twenty-Ninth, Thirtieth, and Thirty-First Sessions: April 7th, April 9th, and April 12th

As you can see, we’ve started meeting with the university far more frequently as we approach a strike. We can’t commit to the usual blow-by-blow anymore because there’s simultaneously more happening and less time to draft reports, but below we’ve summarized the most important moves that have happened in the past week and where the university and union stand on the remaining issues.

Wages: The university wants all conversation to center on wages. At first, we tried engaging them on this topic. In the past week, we’ve moved a total of -4.3% on wages towards the university, but they have only moved +0.7% towards us. After they demonstrated that they would not make the moves they have to make on this topic, we shifted to trying to get non-economic issues off the table.

Appointment Terms/Fees: This article includes language on fees. The university has not offered any sort of fee relief, one of the most important issues to our members and something we cannot envision settling a contract without. However, both sides have now agreed to include the guarantee of tuition waivers into the body of the contract–it had previously been relegated to side letters. The university has also put our language waiving any newly created fees (but not existing ones) into a side letter proposal. Speaking of side letters, we’ve been discussing a side letter which would create a task force in which university and GEO representatives would create recommendations to the provost for expanding the availability of 9 month appointments–similar to what we won in our last contract with regards to creating appointment/re-appointment guidelines. This language has been all but settled. The university has also put forth a side letter which states “the union reserves the right” to bargain an increase to the general or international fee if either increases by more than $25. This language is meaningless–we’re at the table now, they can bargain with us now.

Healthcare: There has not been much discussion of healthcare in the past week. UIC continues to demand we pay hundreds more for healthcare, we continue to demand they cover the full cost. We did remove language on delivery of prescriptions in response to UIC’s claim that they cannot freely renegotiate the terms of CampusCare and introduced a new side letter that would bring the union into future CampusCare negotiations, but they have not replied to that yet. Well, technically they might have one of those times they just said “we reject whatever you sent us last” or “we maintain our previous proposal” in lieu of actually presenting a proposal.

Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment: This remains one of our most important issues and yet the university has made zero movement on this article in months. They won’t even entertain a conversation on how we might reach compromises here, and they continue to refuse to agree to any language around workplace bullying or accommodations for graduate workers who experience harassment or discrimination. Their optimism that we might settle this contract without a strike seems wholly predicated on the fantasy that we will simply forget we proposed this, give up on it, and move on. We will not.

No Strike, No Lockout: We cannot believe we are still talking about this, but we are, and we’ve been talking a fair bit about it in the past week. The university still reserves the right to lock grad workers out of their offices, labs, and classrooms. They want you to know that they would totally never do that to you, but not so much so that they would sign away the right to in your contract. Being able to inflict a lockout on grad workers is so important to the university that they would rather we go on strike than agree not to lock us out. The university has repeatedly stated “You have the right to go on strike. That terrifies the university. You wouldn’t give up that right.” But we have. We’re asking that our No Strike article be updated with a No Lockout clause; we’re asking them to give up their right in precisely the way that we have already given up our right to during the years the contract is in effect.

8 Week Courses: The university has started several online programs with 8 week courses concurrent with the Fall and Spring semesters. We proposed a side letter that would ensure that the TA work of 8 week courses be done with TAs. This language is important to maintain the integrity of these courses and protect grad worker jobs. The university flatly rejected the proposal with a handful of reasons. We added a sentence to address their concerns. The university just never responded until, when asked directly about it, the university’s negotiator responded, “We reject whatever you sent us.”

So there you go. That’s how bargaining’s going. We will continue to try to resolve as much as we can at the bargaining table, but the university’s sheer disregard for a significant number of our members’ concerns does not fill us with optimism. See you all on the picket lines at 9:00am Monday, April 18th!

Twenty-Eighth Session: March 31st, 2022

We began the session by presenting a proposal covering all of the economic articles of the contract. We maintained our demand of full fee elimination (including CampusCare fees) but we stepped down on wages by the amount they’re demanding assistants pay for CampusCare. We thought the message was clear: we want full fee coverage, and we’ll pay for it in wages.

After we sent this across, we went into caucus and discussed how to move forward on the remaining non-economic articles. After some deliberation, we decided to overhaul our Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment proposal to better reflect our priorities: a definition and protections from workplace bullying; accommodations for assistants who have experienced discrimination, harassment, sexual assault, and workplace bullying; and ending mandated reporting for grad workers. We removed a process for filing complaints under the grievance procedure of the contract, a change which also allowed us to get our Grievance Procedure proposal to agree with the University’s. 

When we returned, we presented these changes and reiterated that we will not move on No Strike, No Lockout–the university should not be able to lock grad workers out of their classrooms, labs, and offices. The university then presented its own economic package. They admitted that many departments could do a better job giving out 9 month appointments, but that they did not know how best to do that at this point. They also moved the guarantee of Tuition and Fee Waivers (TFWs) into the contract (from a side letter) as we have been demanding. This much was encouraging, however their wages presentation was frustrating. They accused us of not making movement in our economics package and then they had the audacity to present an economics package of their own in which they made literally $0 of movement, presenting precisely the same wages and healthcare proposals for a second time in a row. We stepped down by the values in their own healthcare proposal, over $500 per year; if the university thinks those numbers are so trivial, why are they fighting so hard to make sure grad workers pay them in healthcare fees?

Members in caucus were incensed. $500 is not a trivial amount of money for us and represented a total decrease in cost for this contract of over $800,000. Still, committed to finding a compromise and hearing the university’s message, we decided to step down by an additional $500 per year. We presented this to the university and highlighted how soundly we rejected their claim that we had made no movement (especially when they literally made none themselves). The university returned to caucus and when they came back, they clearly heard us; they made minimal (but non-zero!) movement: $200 more per year. We’re still some $4000 apart. They have a lot farther to move, but we’re committed to bargaining in good faith. 

Our next bargaining session will be April 7th from 12:00 to 6:00pm. Come see if the fact that our members have authorized a strike causes them to make the movement they have to make.

Twenty-Seventh Session: March 24th, 2022

We began the session with a conversation about what resources are available to survivors at UIC. We recognize the dedication and passion of many individuals at UIC who support survivors, but the systems at UIC for handling sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination remain fundamentally anti-survivor. Survivors do not have full autonomy over who they can disclose to and when a report is filed. How the determination is made if a survivor will get accommodations is opaque. If a survivor’s request for accommodations is denied, there is no recourse. The university reserves all of this as “management rights;” the university will not cede to survivors the control over their own working conditions that they need. And furthermore, the union’s duty is to represent workers when their working conditions must change–or when the university tells them they’ll have to lose pay in order to no longer work with someone who assaulted them. 

After this conversation, the university presented a handful of new proposals. They made movement in Leaves & Holidays and finally put proposals on the table addressing Health Care, Fees, and Tuition Waivers. The university seeks to increase the amount that grad workers pay for Campus Care by $50/semester in each of the next two years of the contract–in other words you would pay $100 more next year and $200 more the year after that than you paid this year. We maintain you shouldn’t have to pay for Campus Care at all–legally, it’s not even insurance. Regarding fees, they have removed language on freezes or relief for the General and International fees that existed in our previous contract. This would see grad workers paying at least $300 more per year in fees. The university has already admitted that its wages proposal would have grad workers “lose money” because of inflation, and apparently they want to claw back the meager raises they’ve offered through fees as well–almost half their proposed raise would be eaten up by fees in the first year, and even more in the following years. The university’s proposed economic proposal is unacceptable.

There was some positive news coming out of this session, however. Following a couple more back-and-forths, we managed to settle Leaves & Holidays. We have officially won 5 days of sick leave across the board for all grad workers regardless of appointment, 6 weeks of parental leave, and 5 days of bereavement leave following the death of an immediate family member or 1 day of bereavement leave for other relations with flexibility for requesting additional leave when university policy does not adequately reflect the nature of a relationship. We expanded the university’s bereavement leave policy to be inclusive of non-binary gender. We won protections that ensure that grad workers can actually take the leaves they are contractually entitled to. We improved the systems by which leave data is reported and tracked and established that it is the employer’s duty–not yours–to track your leave. We have dramatically improved our leaves with this agreement. 

Never let UIC tell you that they’re giving you all of this; they fought hard to deny us these improvements. It was us, the workers and our union, who fought and won them for grad workers. And it goes to show what we can achieve when we stand together–Leaves & Holidays has been under discussion for almost a year now, but it was the threat of a strike authorization vote which settled it. We can win so much more when we stand together. Make sure you get out and vote in our strike authorization vote which will be running from Wednesday, March 30th at 9:00am through Friday, April 1st at 3:00pm.

See you at the next bargaining session on March 31st at 12:00pm.

Twenty-Sixth Session: March 17th, 2022

The start of the session was discouraging. The university brought a comprehensive proposal covering all of the outstanding non-economic articles; they made almost no movement whatsoever. In the leaves and holidays article they managed to dig real deep and increased the amount of parental leave they’re offering from 4 weeks to 5–still less than the parental leave stated in the university’s own policy. Apparently the university still believes that grad workers need less time at home with a new child than other employees.

The only other change the university presented was in response to our appointment terms proposal. We have been demanding universal 9-month appointments to address the financial anxieties and precarity of grad workers. The university’s proposal was to add language that states that the contract will not prevent departments from giving 9 month appointments. This proposal would be best described as patronizing. We know that the contract does not preclude 9 month appointments; that fact underpins our own proposal. We want to see the availability of 9 month appointments expanded, and the university’s proposal does absolutely nothing to move the parties towards compromise.

In caucus, members vented their frustrations (and they had many) but we quickly set to work crafting a reply. We drafted a grievance proposal that incorporated their language. We matched the university’s movement on parental leave and stepped down from 8 weeks to 7. Recognizing the university’s resistance to our bereavement leave proposal, we made fundamental changes. We had previously sought to replace university policy with contract language granting 5 days of bereavement leave across the board upon the death of anyone close to the assistant. In our new proposal, we accept university policy as a starting point and allow assistants to request additional bereavement leave if the list of relations in university policy does not account for their particular family structure. We felt optimistic that this change would address the concerns of both parties.

We also spent time in caucus discussing with the mediator what compromising on the Appointment Terms and Non-Discrimination articles might look like. We laid out our own priorities and considered what path each party might take to reach a compromise on these topics. By the end of caucus we were feeling optimistic and excited. This was what bargaining should feel like: hearing the concerns of those across the table and thinking creatively about how to compromise so that both parties’ needs are met.

And then we went back to the main room and were reminded how things had gotten to this point. We presented the proposals we’d drafted and began talking about the ideas we had had for how to reach compromises on Non-Discrimination and Appointment Terms. When discussing appointment terms, UIC’s chief negotiator refused to engage in the conversation and simply repeated “The university has no interest in that.” The university has no interest in fixing the problems that grad workers have identified in their workplace. The university has no interest in compromise. The university has no interest in taking care of grad workers. When reminded of the issue this semester in which grad workers didn’t get paid because they were on semester-long appointments (despite having guaranteed funding), he stated that the university didn’t consider it an issue.

It is the university’s fault that these negotiations break down–nothing could be more clear after this session. It is because of the university’s intransigence and their disregard for the needs of their own employees that GEO has called on its membership to vote to authorize a strike. It is the university’s fault if GEO goes on strike, and it is the university’s responsibility to avert it.

Our next bargaining session will be March 24th, 12:00-3:00pm. Come see whether our attempts to compromise are wasted on them.

Twenty-Fifth Session: March 10th, 2022

This was the first session with the federal mediator and was mostly a get-to-know-you meeting. We walked the mediator through our non-economic proposals in caucus and he spent the rest of the session in the university’s caucus room. We spent almost no time with the university, and no proposals were passed. The university did, however, promise to bring proposals next time.

Twenty-Fourth Session: March 3rd, 2022

At the beginning, UIC made it clear that they didn’t want to bargain further until the mediator was present, and we agreed with this sentiment. After a brief caucus, we decided the best use of time would be to verify with the university that we agreed on which articles were still outstanding, what and when the last passes were, and whose responsibility it was to respond next on each topic. This was information the mediator had requested of us. We then ended after only an hour of bargaining.

The mediator’s first session will be tomorrow from 12:00-3:00pm. A mediator may help the university abandon its most unreasonable positions–they’ll be even more likely if they know grad workers are paying attention and support GEO. Show up and make your zoom profile pic the picture in the weekly digest!

Twenty-Third Session: February 24th, 2022

We began the session by countering their Leaves and Holidays proposal. Last time the university increased the amount of parental leave they were offering to 4 weeks; as a show of good faith, we matched them by decreasing the parental leave we’re demanding to 8 weeks. In their last pass they also introduced new language making grad workers responsible for tracking and reporting their own leave usage. While GEO is interested in having leave tracked, we were unsure whether it was best to have grad workers track it themselves so we turned the question over to the membership. Members’ response was clear and best summed up by one member in caucus: “If I’m responsible for tracking my own sick days, I can tell you it’s just not going to happen.” Hearing this feedback, our proposal included new language making departments responsible for tracking leaves.

The university came back with a new Leaves and Holidays proposal that accepted our language obligating departments to track assistant leave. Unfortunately, the university also decided to dig in their heels again on parental leave, refusing to move from 4 weeks; this is still 2 weeks less than what’s granted by UIC’s own policy. We were surprised and disappointed by this after both sides had began to move towards a compromise. But even more to our surprise, the university also came back with their very first health care proposal. We brought ours back in December, demanding that the university fully cover the healthcare fees for grad workers and their dependents. The university proposed increased fees across the board, including increasing the healthcare fees that grad workers have already paid this year by $5 per semester. The University wants you to give them $10 back for the past year of healthcare–in the midst of a global pandemic, no less.

This is obviously unacceptable to us, and members in caucus ridiculed the proposal: “University: Hey, uh, can you spot me $10 for health insurance?” At the end of the day, we decided to take this proposal under advisement and not counter until we see their fees proposals; healthcare is just one part of the comprehensive economics of grad workers. In caucus we also discussed the outstanding issues in Leaves and Holidays–bereavement leave as well as parental leave. After hearing from the parents in the room, we decided to continue to move on parental leave by holding firm at 8 weeks but dropping a provision we had had about reduced work duties after returning to work. However, the mandate from the membership was clear: family structures vary and bereavement leave should not be dictated by a list of relations in university policy. And so we maintained our bereavement leave proposal.

Join us tomorrow from 12-3pm for our next bargaining session to see how the university responds to this and other outstanding proposals.

Twenty-Second Session: February 17th, 2022

GEO and the University  jointly requested a federal mediator on February 10th; check out the update from last session below for more information on what that means. Although this request indicates that there are disagreements between us that we need a third party to help us work through, both parties acknowledge that there are still places we can compromise and so we continue to meet while we await a mediator.

We began the session by presenting a side letter on graduate work in 8 week courses. Over the past year two colleges on campus started online degree programs that use 8 week online courses. These colleges gave the teaching assistant duties of these 8 week courses to third party subcontractors called “academic coaches.” TA work should be done by TAs, and UIC courses should be taught by members of the UIC community. And so that’s exactly what we have proposed. GEO is committed to making sure graduate students have access to these employment opportunities.

The University has not responded to this proposal yet, but they did surprise us and pass a proposal on leaves and holidays–a proposal they haven’t moved on since August. There’s no doubt in our minds this movement is a response to our rally last Wednesday; action away from the table is how we win at the table. While this movement is encouraging, it’s not good enough yet. The university went from offering three weeks of parental leave to four weeks of parental leave–still less than the six weeks granted to other employees by UIC policy. Still, we’re moving in the right direction and we’re optimistic that we might be able to reach a compromise soon.

Next session we’ll present our own proposal on Leaves and Holidays, and we hope that the university will show up with more of their long-outstanding articles. Our next bargaining session is tomorrow from 12-3pm.

Twenty-First Session: February 10, 2022

Last week GEO met with the university for our twenty-first bargaining session. In the session before this one the university heard heart-breaking testimony from members struggling to make ends meet in Chicago. It took the university a full week, but they came back with a new offer: $400 more in the first year of the contract. That’s it. No other proposals.

The feeling among members in our caucus was unanimous: is the university trying to waste our time? In this caucus we decided not to move further on wages, and we discussed all of the outstanding issues that the university still refuses to move on–and that they haven’t brought a proposal on in weeks: the university still reserves the right to lock us out of our offices, labs, and classrooms; they’re still offering us half the parental leave stated in their own policy; they have not offered any counter to our fees or healthcare proposals; they still won’t provide guaranteed accommodations for survivors of sexual harassment, discrimination, and workplace bullying. With so many outstanding issues, it was insulting to have them take a whole week to offer only $400 more dollars per year.

When we returned to the bargaining table we voiced these concerns and, in light of the university’s intransigence, we asked the university to jointly request a federal mediator with us. The university stated that they felt there was still a lot of movement we could both make, but that they would agree to the request. If they feel they can move a lot more, then they need to show us that. Still, requesting a mediator is not a statement that we believe either party is unable to move further. A mediator is simply a third party who can bring a fresh perspective and help the parties navigate their ways to compromise when communication has begun to break down. We are optimistic that a mediator will help the university to back down from their most unreasonable positions.

While we wait for a mediator to join the negotiations, we plan to continue bargaining with the university. Our next bargaining session is tomorrow from 12-3pm.

Twentieth session: February 3, 2022

We have reached a huge milestone: last week, we met with the administration for the twentieth time this contract cycle! We had an amazing turnout from members–nearly 70 members at one point! This is the kind of turnout that shows the university that we have the power to win this fight for what we deserve, and it’s this kind of turnout which is likely why we’re seeing what movement we’re seeing!

We began the session asking if the university had anything for us. We were pleased that they had brought us a counter on the grievance procedure article which incorporated a lot of our language and a counter on wages. Although they still maintained their measly 1.99% initial “raise”, they at the very least put real dollar amounts for years 2 and 3 of our contract, backing off tying it to the campus wage increase. They offered a 2% raise in years 2 and 3, so a 6% total raise overall. This is a marked improvement over their initial proposal of no guaranteed raises, but it falls far short; it doesn’t keep up with the inflation from the past year alone, and is far smaller than the raises we have won in the last two contract cycles. 

GEO had a very lively discussion in our caucus room about how to respond to the university. Members were angry that the university’s offer was still so low, and pointed out that GEO continues to make movement while the administration has dug in their heels in every other part of the contract. Many members described their dire economic situations due to our low pay, high fees, and the cost of living in Chicago. When we returned to the main room many members shared testimonials on why this proposal was so important to them–particularly the 9-month guaranteed appointments. Some members did not receive their entire January paycheck on time, a problem which was caused by delays in processing Spring appointments. In many cases, the members were guaranteed funding for the year but were given two semester appointments instead of a 9-month appointment, making this a completely avoidable problem. These members spoke about how they had to choose between eating and paying bills, how some are being threatened with eviction, and other financial traumas. In response to this testimony, the university’s chief negotiator replied: “I would never promise you that the university would pay you enough to cover all of your financial needs.” The university has made it clear that paying a living wage is not a priority of theirs–we’re going to make it one. 

Join us for a rally in the quad next Wednesday, February 16th, 12:30-1:30pm and bring your colleagues. The university still refuses to make meaningful movement in Leaves & Holidays, Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment, Healthcare (which they don’t intend to counter until March), and Appointment Terms. We deserve more from this university, and the only way we get it is through action. 

Finally, our next bargaining session is tomorrow from 12-3pm.

Nineteenth session: January 27, 2022

This bargaining session was extremely important–we tackled two major issues from our bargaining platform and this contract: non-discrimination and grievance, and wages and fees. To start, we provided the university with a counter-proposal on Non-Discrimination and, after clarifying some things from the university, our Grievance procedure as well. For Non-Discrimination, we are still holding the line at trying to get these increased protections for our most vulnerable grad workers–we have enumerated time and time again that UIC policy is ineffective at best and actively harmful at worse, and they have failed to actually address issues of discrimination and harassment when members who experience it do come forward. However, we submitted a counterproposal which streamlined our proposed policy changes and additions, particularly around workplace bullying and retaliation, and changed language to make it clear that our policy additions were specific to the workplace context. 

After clarifying some confusion over the university’s counterproposal for Grievance, we made some progress on these issues by offering the university a counterproposal that accepted some of their language changes, and stepped down on the timeline for filing a grievance related to sexual harassment, discrimination, and/or workplace bullying to reflect federal policy of 180 days. The university did not offer us another counterproposal on these issues at this time, but we expect one soon, and hope that the university will make more movement towards us and prove that protecting vulnerable workers is a priority through their actions, not just their empty words at the table.

We got a counterproposal on fees and wages from the university at this session. The TLDR version? What the university passed back to us was abysmal: it would essentially be a pay decrease in real dollars over the next three years, particularly given the rate of inflation. The university largely rejected our fees proposal as well–they refuse to offer any counter language that discusses reducing/eliminating fees or tuition differential, of which we pay a significant amount of our paycheck back to the university. They have not yet given us a response on including language that will at the very least cap fees, and cause any new fees that may be created in the future to be waived for GEO members. 

For wages, the university offered us a measly 1.99% “raise” for the first year of our 3 year contract, and then would tie our raise for the next two years to the campus wage increase–which is often 0% and has averaged out at 1.52% over the past 10 years. Given the high rate of inflation coupled with the money we pay back in fees and healthcare costs, it is absurd that this is what they passed us. It is worse than the raises they initially offered to us in the last contract cycle, and the contract cycle before that. 

Although GEO members were fired up at the horrible wage proposal that was passed to us, we did return a counterproposal at the end of the session to keep making progress. Reflecting what they passed us, we dropped our initial raise ask by 1.99%, and made the across-the-board raises at a consistent 2.0% rather than tying it to the CPI (which reflects inflation). 

As always, our next session is this Thursday from 12-3pm. If you have had financial troubles because of our current pay and the amount of fees we pay, come to this session and make your voice heard!

Session 18: January 20, 2022

Our first bargaining session of the semester started off with a bang, with nearly 50 GEO members packing the virtual room! This was a very productive session-we were able to tentatively agree (TA) on three articles we had been passing back and forth for awhile: Hours of Work and Class Size, Employee Rights, and Recognition! Our biggest wins come in Recognition and Employee Rights. Our Recognition article now reflects the ruling in an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint which we filed. Despite the university’s resistance, all assistants who hold dual appointments (i.e., Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant) will now be covered under the GEO contract and represented by the union. In Employee Rights, we finally came to an agreement on recording language The article now states that assistants will be notified in writing when they receive their assignments that recording of a course/job duties will be required, and that assistants may request to change their assignment. We also secured language allowing recordings from TAs and GAs to only be used by the participants in the course they are related to during the semester they are made. This language is a huge win that protects grad worker privacy and jobs. We should be extremely proud of these wins, and it is because of a large GEO presence at the table and at actions that we have won this.

We also passed the university our economics package on Wages and Fees. GEO is going big and going bold to get what we deserve and what is comparable to other graduate workers in Chicago: We are asking for a nearly $8,000 initial raise (for 9 month appointments at 50% time) with an at least 2% raise every year after. This would put our stipends on par with Loyola grad workers who won a $10,000 raise last year; we can win this here! We are also demanding for all fees and tuition differentials to either be waived or eliminated-building off our wins in the last contract after our nearly 3-week strike. Even with the wins from our last contract, we pay an exorbitant amount of our wages back to the university in the form of fees and tuition differentials, resulting in much less take-home pay. We know that the university is capable of doing this-indeed, University of Chicago just announced it was getting rid of fees for graduate students there. We shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of doing our jobs.

The university also finally passed us counters or their same proposals on the other outstanding issues: Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment, and Grievance Procedure. The university accepted some of our demands, such as informing survivors who make complaints of sexual assault/harassment/discrimination to OAE that OAE does not represent or advocate for them, but by and large the university rejected our proposal. Of particular note, the university still refuses to include language condemning or defining workplace bullying, language which is currently missing from university policy as well as our contract. We still have a long ways to go on these issues, but we are going to win and GEO is going to do its part to secure justice for survivors of sexual assault, discrimination, and harassment at UIC.

Our bargaining sessions are now always every Thursday, from 12-3pm CST via Zoom at the link below-bookmark this link and mark a recurring event in your calendars! Start bringing more folks from your department-the university is expected to provide us with a counter on our economics proposals we passed at our next session, and you don’t want to miss it!

Session 17: December 14, 2021

Happy New Year Grad Workers! GEO hopes that you all are staying as safe as possible as Omicron tears through our communities. A reminder that we are here, we are your union, and we keep each other safe. If you have any safety concerns, feel free to contact the union and our staff organizer at staff@uic-geo.net. Prior to the end of the semester, we met with the university for our seventeenth bargaining session of this contract cycle. If you haven’t been following bargaining, you can read past updates here. We had plans to try to TA many outstanding articles-we offered the university several step-downs on several key issues in order for them to actually make movement towards us. Alas, as the university continues to show, they are not interested in making any meaningful movement towards us, and continue to just say no, despite several members stating why our contract needs to change and why we need more protections. 

We started the session with UIC giving us a counter on some of our Non-Discrimination proposal. Again they refuse to add more protected classes and key policy changes-including workplace bullying, of which the university has admitted there is no current policy, nor a way to address this. They claim that because UIC already has definitions those are sufficient-even though we have stated several times that UIC policies are not adequate, given that the Title IX office rarely finds anyone to have violated their sexual misconduct/discrimination policies. GEO responded that we cannot consider a counter-proposal until we receive a counter-proposal on all aspects of the Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment proposal (in which guaranteed workplace accommodations are a key component of this proposal) and our Grievance proposal, as much of what we wrote in the former impacts the latter. 

Next, GEO presented our proposal on Healthcare. The nearly two-year plus pandemic have shown that our employer-based healthcare is severely lacking and much too expensive. As such, GEO’s proposal is asking that 100% of graduate employee’s healthcare and any dependents they wish to add are covered by the university. Additionally, we are adding in a provision that allows for 100% covered mail-order prescriptions where legally possible for up to a 3 months supply. This will make prescription access much easier for our employees. We expect that the university will have a counterproposal on this issue the next time we meet.

Finally, GEO came prepared with a package proposal on several outstanding articles: No Strike, No Lockout, Hours of Work and Class Size, Recognition, and Employee Rights. In this package, we made 3 significant step-downs in the hopes that we would TA these articles-and by making these step-downs, we expected that the university would then come toward us and make significant movement our way. These 3 significant step-downs included the removal of all pandemic-related language, changes in the Recognition article that maintain status quo, and editing our  Employee Rights proposal  to remove our addition of internet access as an explicitly enumerated work material provided by the university and to change the recording language to support both worker’s and the employer’s needs. To our surprise and frustration, UIC largely rejected the package proposal, mainly over the No Strike, No Lockout language. After over 6 months of contract bargaining, they still want to reserve the right to lock us out. Despite the significant movement GEO made, UIC remains committed to doing very little to make the lives of graduate workers better. 

As this new semester starts, we plan to be meeting with the university soon to present our economic proposal. If you have not been involved in the union yet, now is the time. Work stoppages and actions are happening all over the city and country (Chicago Teacher’s Union, Kellogg’s workers, John Deere workers, Starbucks employees, to name a few) in order to improve the lives of workers everywhere. GEO is part of that fight, and we will continue to fight for what we deserve. Stay tuned for information about the next bargaining session and Spring General Membership meeting. Solidarity!

Session 16: November 30, 2021

Last Tuesday we met with the University for our sixteenth bargaining session. If you haven’t been following bargaining, you can read past updates here.

In this session, we continued to discuss GEO’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment proposal. We had found our previous conversations on this topic encouraging–the University had demonstrated care in handling this subject and a willingness to write new language together. However, on Tuesday we saw the University start to dig in its heels again and return to its habit of simply rejecting whatever is in front of them.

After beginning the session by immediately requesting a caucus, the University returned and rejected several aspects of our proposal. We’ve proposed definitions and examples of sexual harrassment and workplace bullying to be included in our contract. The University refuses to include the former because it is already handled by University policy. The University also refuses to include the latter because it is not already handled by University policy. It is unclear what the University thinks the point of our contract is. When pressed on what workers are supposed to do when bullied since there is no University policy on this, the University’s chief negotiator suggested some vague and ad hoc process of talking to a department head, or maybe HR manager, or maybe labor relations–and yet they don’t see a need for the detailed and graduate worker-informed process we’ve handed them in our proposal.

This response was met with frustration from our members. One bargaining committee member spoke passionately about her experiences with OAE and how that office has broken trust between UIC and its community. We pointed to the statistic that of 27 complaints of discrimination filed by graduate students in five academic years, in only 1 did OAE find that the respondent had violated UIC policy. At least 26 people have been in need of help and have been failed by UIC. This underscores how critical the proposals we’ve brought to the table are–the University is not equipped to stop or repair the harm done to those who have suffered most on its campus. The University simply thinks that these numbers are acceptable, and thus nothing needs to change-this is false.

Much of the rest of the session was spent in caucus. We pressed the University to respond to the sections of our proposal which deal with workplace accommodations for survivors and mandated reporting. The University did not give concrete responses to either of these issues but indicated that they would not be open to accommodations that do not require proof of the discrimination or harassment. This flies contrary to core tenets of our proposal: the University processes that exist for finding “proof” do not work and survivors should not be subjected to dehumanizing investigations in order to have their needs met. The University also expressed doubt about the legality of our mandated reporting proposals–policy changes that the University of Oregon have already enacted.

At the end of the session, we expressed frustration with the University’s tendency towards vague conversation about the proposal and lack of concrete, written counter-proposals. The University’s lead negotiator was sympathetic to this complaint and agreed to come prepared next session with something to give us.

We look forward to seeing this response next time. If you want to join us and see this process in action, our next session will be next Tuesday, December 14th, from 11:00am-2:00pm.

Session 15: November 16, 2021

Last Tuesday, we met with the university for our FIFTEENTH bargaining session of this contract cycle! If you have missed previous bargaining sessions, you can find updates about those linked here. We started the session with both sides of the table asking each other if we had anything to present. We were pleased to again see the university come to the table and ask us to continue discussing the non-discrimination and anti-harassment proposal. We went through and clarified questions and reasoning from the university side on our expanded sexual harassment and retaliation definitions and our addition of workplace bullying.

The university wanted to know if we had known of instances of workplace bullying, and why this should be included in our contract. The bargaining team and individual members provided them with examples and we described how our current agreement with the university gave workers no recourse in these situations. While the university claimed that workers had recourse under UIC policy , we have not yet seen any UIC policy which actually  addresses this issue; the administration tried to point to the code of conduct as policy against workplace bullying, but this document in no way addresses workplace bullying or offer a way for it to be reported–read it for yourself here. Additionally, even if there were UIC policy on workplace bullying, it would still be important for this language to be in our contract. Our union must have a mechanism for protection and enforcement just like in the case of discrimination, an issue our contract already includes.This is a huge problem for GEO members, and many spoke out during the session bravely speaking out about their toxic work environments and how they have experienced bullying in the workplace. We need this language in order to better fight against bullying in the workplace.

Before the university went into caucus to discuss our comments on the non-discrimination and anti-harassment proposal, we also presented a package proposal with many of the remaining issues still on the table. We made significant movement by moving our pandemic-related language into a side letter separate from the contract, made significant movement with regards to Recognition by reflecting our recent arbitration win, and also moved toward the university on recording language in our Employee Rights proposal. This package also included our No Strike No Lockout proposal and Hours of Work and Class Size proposal. We expected the university to make movement towards us after we had made significant movement towards them.

When the university came back, they rejected most of the added definition changes around workplace bullying, sexual harassment, and retaliation. They claim that they do not want to add in more definitions because then they have to enforce different definitions for different groups-even though they do this already through different union contracts and policies that apply to other groups outside of GEO. It is also interesting that where it benefits the university, they want a uniform policy, but when it does not benefit the university, like providing graduate workers with at least 6 weeks of paid parental leave as stated by UIC policy, they want to ascribe different policies to us. Once again, the status quo is all that the university is interested in maintaining, because the status quo protects the university, not GEO members, survivors of sexual harassment, and victims of workplace bullying. The university paradoxically claimed that our language was both too vague and too specific-we took this to mean that it is too vague or too specific when it does not benefit the university. For instance, the university expressed that adding definitions to our contract will make it more difficult for them to make changes through altering their policies.  Of course, additional examples of unacceptable behaviors make it easier for us to be able to grieve those behaviors through the grievance process, which is something the university is not interested in us being able to do. But we know that we must fight in order to secure these expanded protections; we must protect ourselves because the university is not interested in doing so. We showed this clearly at a very successful rally that we held last Wednesday which featured GEO members and allies talking about their horrible experiences of sexual harassment, reporting to Title IX, and why GEO’s proposals are so important to securing a more protective work environment. 

Finally, after coming back from a caucus in which GEO discussed the university’s response, the university rejected our package proposal–they continue to be unwilling to address pandemic-related language in contract negotiations, even in the form of a side letter. We did not have time to discuss the package proposal in much detail, however, so we remain hopeful that this may yet prove a useful vehicle for settling the included articles.

 Our next session will be Tuesday, November 30th, from 11am-2pm Central Time via Zoom. We only have one or two more sessions this semester-it’s crucial that we finish the semester strong with a strong presence in the bargaining room. See you there!

Session 14: November 4, 2021

Last Thursday, we met with the university for our fourteenth bargaining session of this contract cycle. If you have missed previous bargaining sessions, you can find updates about those linked here. During the previous session, we presented a key piece of our bargaining platform: our Non-Discrimination and Grievance procedure proposals. When we came to the session, we expected that the university would provide a response to these proposals, or at least begin to provide a response. We were pleased that they came prepared to start discussing this proposal and working towards creating language around these important issues that impact our most marginalized members.

To start, the university wanted more clarity on why we were adding the specific protected classes we were in the first section of our proposal. We explained that we want to be more inclusive of folks who could possibly be subject to discrimination, and move beyond state and federal law, as those laws often change and are inadequate to addres our discrimination and harassment concerns. We also clarified for the university some questions they had around the wording of our addition of a definition for discriminatory harassment language. After this, the university chose to go into caucus to discuss.

After over two hours in caucus, the university came back with a counterproposal to the first two paragraphs of our non-discrimination proposal. They rejected the addition of more protected classes into the first part. They claim that if we just start listing everyone, we could just put whomever we wanted-including single people with no kids. Of course, marital status is already a protected class in our non-discrimination proposal, so single members cannot be discriminated against on that basis per our contract. They modified our definition of discriminatory harassment by changing it to general harassment, but incorporated key aspects of our language and captured the intent, which we were pleased to see. We asked if there was anything that GEO could do to help the university in moving more quickly through the proposal or any questions we could answer, while still reassuring that we know these issues are complicated and they deserve much time and attention. The university said that there wasn’t anything GEO could do, but that we will continue talking over these important and complex issues in future sessions.

Overall, GEO feels proud of the progress we have made, but many outstanding issues remain on the table. Our next bargaining session will be Tuesday, November 16th, from 11am-2pm Central Time via Zoom, see the link information below. We will also be holding a rally in the quad on East campus on November 17th from 12:30pm-1:30pm where we will be discussing these issues demonstrating our strength.

Session 13: October 19, 2021

On Tuesday, we met with the university for our thirteenth bargaining session of this contract cycle. If you have missed previous bargaining sessions, you can find updates about those linked here. This session was incredibly important, happening right before our huge and successful Teach/Work-In action on Wednesday! First, we asked the university if they had anything to pass us. They passed us their reasons for why they cannot give us 9-month appointments-after looking at this list, it wasn’t anything the university hadn’t told us before, and quite frankly is just a list of excuses as to why they do not want to guarantee more job protections for graduate workers. We brought forth two proposals at this session, our Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment proposal and our Grievance procedure proposal-two key pieces of our bargaining platform.

Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment

This is one of our most complicated and comprehensive proposal changes of this contract cycle-and it comes after years of organizing through a GEO working group on sexual harassment and discrimination. In it, we have proposed expansive definition changes by adding protected classes to our non-discrimination article (e.g., ethnicity, parental status, medical condition), adding language around discriminatory harassment and workplace bullying, and expanded definitions of sexual harassment. We looked to several other graduate union contracts in order to add additional protections in our own contract, which has been lacking in non-discrimination and harassment protections. Furthermore, we have put language barring retaliation into our contract, as well as removing stipulations on who graduate workers can confide in after experiencing sexual harassment or discrimination at the informal level (e.g., telling their advisor about what they experienced without triggering a formal complaint). In addition to expanded definitions, we have also included increased transparency and the option for union representation for workers who are filing harassment and discrimination complaints. Finally, we have also laid out a process for workers to receive accommodations after experiencing harassment or discrimination in the workplace. These accommodations include: changing supervisors/work assignments, moving offices, and changing schedules. Through these changes, we want to put more autonomy back in the hands of graduate workers to be able to seek the type of support they want in addition to condemning actions that produce hostile work environments. If graduate workers choose to file formal complaints, we want them to have options and additional protections while they file complaints because the university does not represent the interests of workers who have experienced harassment and discrimination. 

Grievance Procedure

In this proposal, we are offering changes that allow members who experience harassment and discrimination to file complaints through the grievance procedure rather than through Title IX processes, given that through testimonials at our session today and through the working group, most members who have been through the Title IX process do not find it helpful, but actually more harmful. Our proposal also contains a lot of minor changes which improve clarity while making our contract language more explicitly reflect our standard practices. We’ve also proposed a change to the way an arbitrator is selected in the event we need to appeal grievances to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

In our next session, we hope that the university will begin sending us counter-proposals on these two articles, as well as the other articles we have left on the bargaining table. After our successful work-in, we hope the university sees how integral our work is to the functioning of the university and will bargain with us in good faith by actually bringing us actual counter-proposals that show movement towards our needs for a fair contract for all. Our next bargaining session will be Thursday, November 4th, from 1:00-4:00pm Central time via Zoom. Thank you to all our members who participated in the Work-In Action-the university works because we do!

Session 12: October 1, 2021

Last Friday, we met with the university for our twelfth bargaining session of this contract cycle, after leaving last bargaining session with a message to the administration that they need to actually come to us with meaningful counter-proposals. If you have missed previous bargaining sessions, you can find updates about those linked here. Thanks to our members who came out to this session, particularly our members who are currently pregnant and voiced their concerns over the university’s refusal to add more paid parental leave to our contract beyond the three weeks they have proposed. Our members have constantly voiced that this is an abysmal proposal and not nearly enough to support parents who are graduate workers-we deserve more parental leave, as do all campus employees.

To begin the session, we asked if the university had anything prepared for us, specifically on Leaves and Holidays. They did not have a counterproposal, but had a verbal response prepared, claiming that they could not move on parental leave until they saw our wages proposal. However, as members in caucus pointed out, that is just an excuse to not move on parental leave–they moved toward us on sick days without having to see our wages proposal. As one member in our caucus mentioned, they shouldn’t need our wages proposal before making movement on parental leave–UIC significantly increased parental leave across the board for everyone else on campus without it affecting wages.

After this discussion, we spent the remainder of the session going through our outstanding articles (ones we have brought to the table but have not TA’ed yet) and where the union stands and what we think the sticking points are for the university. These articles are: Hours of Work and Class Size, No Strike (No Lockout, which we are trying to add), Recognition, Leaves and Holidays, Employee Rights, and Appointment Terms. GEO brought no new articles because, as we stated in the last session, we will not continue to bargain with ourselves. However, we thought it would be beneficial to bring up articles we had not discussed in several weeks to see if any positions have changed or what could be further clarified and discussed. Overall, we feel this was a productive use of this session, and feel better moving forward on the majority of articles we discussed. Many of these articles contain language that we drafted in response to the pandemic, which we decided to table to focus on the more substantive sticking points in the articles currently left on the table. For Employee Rights, we gained more clarity on the recording issue, and continued to reiterate that we need access to adequate materials to do our jobs, which can include internet access and other technological needs. For Leaves and Holidays, the administration said they would continue discussing it and see what they can do around parental leave. On Appointment Terms, the university has previously said too many things would need to change in order to guarantee us 9-month appointments. We of course agree, but just because many things would need to change doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. We asked the university to enumerate more of what would need to change around this, and we look forward to continuing these conversations in future sessions. The most resistance we encountered from the university was still around adding in No Lockout language-when asked to elaborate on what a Lockout would look like, the university admitted that it would be very complicated given that many things we use for our jobs we also use as students and for our research. However, they still want to reserve the right to use the ability to lock us out of our jobs-even though they have no idea what it would look like. Despite this, they seem confident to claim that locking us out of our jobs would not impact our ability to finish our degrees-a ridiculous position, given that most of us would not be able to do our degrees without the assistantship stipends and tuition waivers in addition to other contract benefits.

GEO feels more confident moving forward after this long and productive discussion, particularly with the insights our members shared during caucus. We are continuing to make progress, and soon we will be bringing forward positions from the major parts of our platform (see attached), starting with our non-discrimination proposal. It is key that more and more members continue to show up to our bargaining sessions. We are starting to bring forward our major platform issues, and we need all members to show up to show the university that they must meet us with meaningful counter-proposals and meet our needs. Our next session will be Tuesday, October 19th, from 11am-2pm Central Time via Zoom.

Session 11: September 17, 2021

For the first time this bargaining cycle, we met with the administration on a Friday for our 11th bargaining session. If you have missed the other bargaining sessions and would like to get caught up, you can read those updates here. Overall, this was probably our most fired up session to date in terms of members in the caucusing room. This session was hot off the heels of our first General Membership Meeting of the semester, in which we updated the membership on bargaining and our contract campaign as we continue to fight for a better contract for all.

GEO came prepared with two counter-proposals to pass to the university: a counter-proposal on Employee Rights and a counter on Appointment Terms. In our counter-proposal for Employee Rights, we incorporated most of the language that the university had passed us previously on allowing recordings to only be available to participants within the course during the semester the recordings are used. However, we still added that no worker would be required to record themselves as a condition of employment-if recording is required for a certain course, TAs and GAs who are uncomfortable with being recorded should be given an alternative option without worrying about losing their job. In our counter-proposal for Appointment Terms, we incorporated the university’s concerns around our guaranteed housing language, adding in clarity that it would be specific to states of emergencies declared that would impact UIC residents, with the exception of evacuation orders. We kept in the compensation for late appointments (our sister campus UIUC has this in their contract and there is no stated basis for refusing it to us) and guaranteed 9-month appointments for graduate workers with some  exceptions for if a 9 month appointment doesn’t make sense for the worker.

GEO asked if the administration had a counter ready for us on Leaves and Holidays. We have several members come to the sessions each time, asking the bargaining team if Leaves and Holidays will be brought up, particularly around the issue of parental leave. Once again, the administration did not bring us a counter, and said they wanted to “table the issue” for now. Given what we passed around Appointment Terms, GEO actually thinks it would be easier to implement more paid parental leave and to plan around assistants who may need to take time off to have their child/support their partner who had their child. Unfortunately, the university does not see it this way and continues to give us less than we deserve, refusing to budge on increasing our paid parental leave even though UIC’s own policy is 6 weeks of paid parental leave.

After this, we went into our caucus rooms. GEO had expected to have a counter-proposal from the university on Leaves and Holidays to discuss, but since the university did not provide us anything, we continued to discuss the articles we had passed to the university while the university caucused. About an hour and a half passed, and the university came back to the bargaining room. We expected that, given that GEO had made movement on both articles to address university concerns, they would present counter-proposals that made movement towards GEO to address our concerns. They rejected both counter-proposals, despite our extensive language changes to both articles. For Employee Rights, they are refusing to protect workers from having to record themselves, and continuing to say that they do not think they are responsible for covering the costs of internet access, despite needing the internet to do our jobs. One member even mentioned that the hotspots provided by the university were recalled because they were catching on fire-which she only found out after asking UIC directly, not because they told her and sent her a new hotspot. For Appointment Terms, the university claimed that “too much would have to change” in order for guaranteed 9-month appointments to be implemented. That is exactly the point. So much should change in order to make graduate workers feel more secure in their employment. In our bargaining survey that we took surveying members in preparation for this upcoming bargaining cycle, 95% of members who receive appointments on a semester-by-semester said they would feel more secure if they received a 9 or 12 month appointment. The university could change things in order to make our jobs less volatile, and thus improving our financial and emotional wellbeing, they just do not want to make our lives better. And so, we must demand it ourselves.

The university continues to claim that GEO is why negotiations cannot proceed. During this session, they tried to claim that we keep presenting the same language and giving the same proposals. Both of these things are unequivocally false. Every bargaining session, GEO brings forward counter-proposals and has extensive conversations with the university side and with their members in order to try to understand the concerns of the university while prioritizing improving the lives of TAs and GAs at UIC. However, when the university rejects every language change we pass in favor of the status quo, we are forced to bargain with ourselves. We refuse to do this anymore. The status quo is not good enough. If it was, we wouldn’t be bargaining in the first place. Because of this, GEO left the bargaining session early, after a majority vote in caucus supported this decision. We told the university to take the remaining half hour to keep our proposals and actually spend time crafting language to meet us where we are and to address the multitude of concerns we have brought to them. It is unclear if the university will actually come prepared to our next negotiations with meaningful counter-proposals that we can actually bring to our members to discuss. On this note, our next session will be Friday, October 1st, from 11am-2pm CST over Zoom. Are you mad that the university continues to reject everything we have passed to them? Come to the next bargaining session and voice your frustrations that the university continues to delay us in making progress toward a fair contract for all.

Session 10: September 2, 2021

On Thursday we met with the university administration for our tenth bargaining session, and our first bargaining session of the Fall semester! If you missed previous bargaining sessions, please find those updates here. As we begin Fall semester, it is more crucial than ever that we get members coming to our bargaining sessions, as we bring more and more important articles to the table. First, we asked if the university had a response on employee rights for us. They did, and brought language for us regarding TA’s and GA’s recording themselves, but are still rejecting the rest of the language on guaranteeing internet access and other materials required for remote work. We broke out into our caucus rooms to discuss what the administration sent back to us, and to discuss the Appointment Terms article that we were prepared to pass back. After discussing with our members, we were still concerned that there was no language barring that we be required to record ourselves as a condition of employment, but we heard some of the university’s concerns about recording for students who needed accommodations and incorporated that into our new language. We came back and presented another Employee Rights proposal where we maintain that we will not be required to record as a condition of our employment except as required by law in order to support accommodations. 

The University took our Employee Rights proposal back into a caucus. In our caucus room, we went over Appointment Terms with the members who were there in order to explain what we would be passing to the university later on in the session. We had a great discussion with members about why a nine-month appointment structure would make our employment not only more secure, but our livelihoods astronomically better financially, mentally, and physically. We believe this also would help the university who had concerns with giving us more paid parental leave; on a nine-month appointment vs. a semester appointment, taking the 10 weeks of paid parental leave that we have presented would be much easier for departments to plan around rather than a semester-by-semester appointment structure. 

When we came back from our caucus rooms, the university was still not amenable to what we passed back. One department head said that we are in a “new reality” of teaching in which assistants should expect to record themselves. Many members spoke at length about why recording should not be required as a condition of our employment, specifically because many of us deal with sensitive topics in our classroom that would be a violation of student trust to record. Our classes would not be as pedagogically sound if we started recording these sessions, as students may fear to discuss things more openly. We are still working with the counterproposal that the administration gave us and will hope to bring our own counter next session.

After this productive discussion, we presented our Appointment Terms proposal, which included a modest compensation to grads who receive late/last-minute appointments (which our sister union at UIUC has in their contract, thus there is no basis for us to not be given the same compensation), a guarantee that graduate and teaching assistants will be given a nine month appointment instead of a semester-by-semester appointment (except in special cases/circumstances as elected by the assistant), and language that workers will not be evicted from residence halls/university housing during a local, state, or national emergency. This last point was something we won through impact bargaining that we believe is important to enshrine in the contract in order to protect workers in the future. The majority of the remainder of the session was spent in our caucus rooms, where we also asked the university if they had a response to our Leaves and Holidays counterproposal that we had passed back to them last session in addition to the Appointment Terms proposal. Near the end of the session, they came back and seemed dismayed that we had made any changes to the Appointment Terms article. Their lead negotiator in particular expressed disdain that we were trying to make changes after all the work we had done on it during the last contract cycle. We fought hard during a nearly 3-week strike for what we won in our last contract, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to fight hard for even greater protections and job security for grad workers. All in all, the university rejected completely our Appointment Terms proposal, not offering any counter, and they said that they would aim to come back to our next session with a new Leaves and Holidays counterproposal after GEO sent them information on paid leave for graduate workers at several other peer institutions (all of which have much more leave than UIC’s current measly offer of 3 weeks).

We expect to continue discussing these issues as we proceed through bargaining. As we start passing our most key proposals and move close to passing our economics proposal, it is key that members show up to these sessions. We win the best contract when all of us are there, showing up, and collectively organizing around the issues that are important to us. There has never been a more important time to be involved and a card-signed member of the union. Our next session will be Friday, September 17th from 11:00am-2:00pm Central Time via Zoom. You don’t have to be there the whole time, just pop in when you can!

Session 9: August 16th, 2021

On Monday (8/16) we met with University administration for our ninth bargaining session as we continue to fight for an equitable contract for grad workers at UIC. If you missed previous bargaining sessions, please find those updates here. We first began the session expecting to receive a response to our package proposal including Hours of Work and Class Size, No Strike No Lockout, and Recognition.The administration once again refused to move on all three of the former articles, including standard no lockout language that exists in all labor contracts, which GEO members continue to find offensive and abhorrent. In response, we decided to take our first caucus and discuss the Leaves and Holidays article. We are thrilled that the administration has moved toward GEO on sick days, offering each graduate employee five sick days per semester regardless of appointment.However, we are still troubled by their unwillingness to match their own University policy on parental leave (6 weeks).The discussion that transpired during our caucus session was invaluable, as multiple members with lived experience of navigating childbirth and parenthood while in graduate school came forward to help us craft language during the session that would both move toward the University’s position while also ensuring that new grad student-parents are not neglected or punished for having a family. Specifically, we spent just over an hour during caucus crafting language that included a concession from asking for 11 weeks of parental leave to asking for 10 weeks of parental leave but added in language that would guarantee an additional 5 weeks of reduced and/or remote workload at the discretion of the assistant. We learned from members that the flexibility in workload and work location may actually be more valuable than just simply having weeks off, particularly given the challenges in finding infant child care. 

We had hoped to bring forward our Appointment Terms article during this session; however, we discussed this article during caucus, which proved to be incredibly valuable and led the bargaining team to revisit some language to ensure that it was consistent with what members in the room were advocating for. We look forward to bringing this article to our next bargaining session. 

We then returned to the bargaining room with only a few minutes of the session to spare. The University presented us with revised language on Employee Rights, offering up some language to address our concerns about grad workers being compelled to record themselves as a requirement of employment. However, the University still refuses to guarantee internet access to our members, which has been one of the greatest concerns that has been shared with us since the beginning of the pandemic. We agreed to take the Employee Rights article under advisement and will be prepared to respond to the University’s proposal during the next session. We then presented our Leaves and Holidays article and we look forward to hearing the University’s response at our next session. 

Lastly, we discussed the issue of scheduling our bargaining sessions. As our members are well aware, grad workers typically do not know their schedules until just before the semester, and sometimes even after the semester begins, which is a huge issue we hope to address through bargaining. Given this challenge, we informed the administration that we needed to discuss our schedules and come up with a new day and time for our bargaining sessions so that all of our bargaining team could attend. Therefore, the next bargaining session is TBD! But it will most likely occur on September 1st in the afternoon. We will send reminders per usual! 

Thank you again to the members in the room that ensured that the language we are fighting for is equitable for all grad workers. This illustrates why it is SO vital that you come to bargaining: you can help shape the language that will impact you, your colleagues, and grad workers in the future. We look forward to seeing even more grad workers there as the semester begins!

Session 8: August 3, 2021

On Tuesday, we met with the administration for the 8th session as we continue bargaining for a fair contract for all. If you missed previous bargaining sessions, please find those updates here. We had members speak today, both in caucus and in the session, about why some of the proposals we are still negotiating are very important and very material to our members’ lives, with particular attention paid to increasing paid parental leave. As we start nearing the semester, it becomes incredibly important to show up to bargaining sessions and start organizing the members in your department.

We started off the session on a high note—we finally tentatively agreed to a new Discipline and Dismissal article! We TAed this proposal that hopefully makes the discipline process clearer and follows a positive progressive discipline model, which is very important for protecting the employment of graduate workers.

Next, we asked if the university had a response to our Employee Rights proposal. They said they did and they didn’t. They didn’t necessarily send it back yet with new language but told us that they needed some clarification and that they were willing to see if they could craft language that could work in response to our language not requiring employees to record themselves.They still deemed guaranteed internet access for remote work an impact bargaining issue, even though remote appointments have existed long before the pandemic. GEO passed another proposal on paid leaves and holidays, making significant movement by stepping down from our initial ask of 12 weeks for paid parental leave to 11 weeks, but kept everything else from the last proposal we passed. We again explained that what we are asking for is not unreasonable—asking for 1.5 more sick days per semester during an unprecedented global pandemic is a basic request. When they passed back their counter-proposal, they did make movement towards us that we were happy to see: The university proposed 5 sick days per semester regardless of percentage of appointment. This only happened because we have been advocating for more sick time since the start of the pandemic through impact bargaining and because we have had members show up consistently to bargaining sessions!

We also had a pregnant member come to this bargaining session to bravely voice her concerns about being able to take maternity leave next semester—she explained why the university’s current proposal at a measly 3 weeks is not even close to adequate, particularly if she experiences a C-section or complications during the delivery of her baby. The university’s response? “Best of luck to you” and “UIC supports expectant families,” But, when they came back with a counterproposal on paid leave, they refused to budge from their current 3 weeks of paid parental leave. Even with members telling them they needed more time. Their words ring empty when they continue to refuse to line up with their own UIC policy of 6 weeks—we are not different from other workers in that we also need and deserve many more weeks of parental leave, at the bare minimum keeping up with their own policy. 

Overall, we saw some promising movement, but still some frustrating lack of movement from the administration with regards to parental leave, even after hearing from members that this directly impacts. Our caucus room was once again filled with many members voicing their concerns and suggestions with proceeding forward, which helps the bargaining team better draft proposals that reflect what we all want to fight for, together. Our next bargaining session will be on Monday, August 16th, at 11am-1pm Central Time. Please note the different day, and earlier start time! We will send reminders per usual. Thank you, and see you Monday, August 16th!

Session 7: July 20th, 2021

On Tuesday, we met with the university for our seventh bargaining session of this contract cycle. If you have missed previous bargaining sessions, you can find updates about those linked here. Special thanks to our members who came out, as we had several members offer their perspectives and expertise in our caucus sessions, which is how we continue to build power together. We will only fight and win an amazing contract if we do it together through being union strong!

Although we had hoped to start the session off by tentatively agreeing to the university’s last proposal on discipline and dismissal, for technical reasons that didn’t happen. We will be TAing that proposal next time. Next, we asked if the university had a response to our Leaves and Holidays counterproposal that we had passed back after their abysmal counter-proposal that they gave us last time which would not even be consistent with new UIC policy. They said they maintained the counter-proposal they gave to us as the last session. So, they again refused to make any movement towards us even though we continue to make movement towards them when we pass back our counter-proposals. This was unexpected and extremely disappointing-we knew we needed to discuss with our members in caucus to make sure they felt the same way. Before breaking off into our caucus sessions, we passed our initial proposal making changes to the Employee Rights article. During the pandemic when most instruction and GA work was moved remotely, we were seeing that our members were not being given adequate internet access/tools they needed in order to perform their job duties. This was a contentious aspect of Impact Bargaining, where we were told to just “figure it out!” if we couldn’t afford internet access/computers with the bandwidth and processing power to host online courses. So, we did “figure it out”-we added language in this article around including internet access and any associated materials needed for remote work duties be provided by the university, as we should not have to spend our own money in order to perform our work. Additionally, we are adding in language that no graduate employee be required to record themselves in their job duties. We are adding this language in order to ensure quality control of our teaching content and to protect our intellectual property so that the university does not use our recordings in the future.

After passing our proposal on Employee Rights and hearing little to no explanation from the university about why they did not make movement towards our counter-proposal to Leaves and Holidays, we each went to our caucus rooms. We discussed our continued anger and frustration that the university continues to treat us like “not typical” employees, and therefore not deserving of things like increased paid parental leave and more sick time. What we are asking for is not unreasonable-especially during a continued global pandemic catastrophe and members who have reached out to us hoping that we will now be getting six weeks of parental leave given UIC’s new policy. After a lively discussion where several members offered their perspectives, and a couple who offered their expertise to explain why we need more parental leave, for example, we came back to the main session to ask for clarification and answers from the university.

The university continued to maintain that we do not deserve more sick time because we already get enough. We have reiterated over and over again why that is not true. Also, our ask for the increase in sick time is only 1.5 days per semester for 50% FTE appointments, bringing the total of sick days one can use per semester to less than one full week. Is the university admitting that our labor is so integral to the university that it would collapse if graduate workers needed a week of paid sick leave? Or is it just that the university is simply unwilling to pay us for additional sick time because it thinks we do not deserve it? GEO’s bargaining team brought up concerns of members who have reached out about not having at the minimum 6 weeks of paid parental leave (we are currently asking for 12, as 6 weeks is also not even close to enough time of parental leave). We continue to hear the same meaningless phrase from the university: “We understand”. After correctly pointing out that everyone on the other side of the table cannot understand what we are going through because they make more money than we do, have better healthcare, and have better paid leave than we do, we were once again berated and then told by some across the aisle about how difficult it was to have children and how little paid support they received. In other words, they suffered, so now we should too. If you had such a difficult time having children with little paid support and were then in a position to make it easier for graduate employees to have children and get support, why would you not try to make it easier for those after you to have children? The answer is clear: because the university does not hold graduate employee’s best interests at heart, only the union does, which is why we will continue to push and fight for increased paid leave in our contract.

Overall, the response we got from the university was lackluster, and one thing was evident to us (as summarized by a member in the chat): if you’re a graduate employee, try to plan having a child or getting sick outside of the semester parameters, because otherwise it’s too inconvenient for departments for you to take paid time off! In our next session, we expect that the university will come back with a response to our employee rights proposal, and we will continue pushing the university on Leaves and Holidays and TA Discipline and Dismissal. Our next session is TBD, but it will likely be on Tuesday, August 3rd. Also, with the semester approaching, we need as many folks as we can to come to bargaining sessions and start talking with the new employees who come into your department to join the union. We only have power with more members-and we all need to work together in order to win the best contract for all.

Session 6: July 6, 2021

After a productive fifth session, GEO met with the UIC administration for the sixth bargaining session of this contract cycle. As always, we especially want to shout out the members who attended this session after a busy holiday weekend. Several members in the caucus room were able to offer their perspective, which directly helped the bargaining team with responses to the university during the session. It is critical that members show up so that your voices are heard, and you can contribute to what we fight for, together!

At the beginning of the session, we presented our counter-proposal for Discipline and Dismissal, which the bargaining team worked on after our productive caucus with our members during the last session. We accepted many of the university’s changes, but still wanted to keep some of the original language that we had passed in our initial proposal. We gave the University some more explanation as to our changes and allowed the university to take it to their caucus.

Before breaking out into caucus rooms, we asked the University if they had a counterproposal to give us on our Leaves and Holidays proposal. After a quick 5 minutes to allow them to give us the counter-proposal so our caucus sessions were more productive, they presented us with their Leaves and Holidays counterproposal. What they gave us was quite frankly abysmal and insulting, which was validated by the anger members shared in our caucus. The University offered us a measly 3 weeks of parental leave, half of what we should get under their own policy alone. They outright rejected our request for more sick leave. Even amidst a global pandemic that has left over half a million people dead in the U.S. alone, they claim we do not need more sick days. On the same lines, they rejected and did not even acknowledge our attempt to get language that during any local/state/or federal medical emergency, GEO and the university will be able to negotiate for additional paid sick and parental leave. They only accepted two minor changes that we made in our initial proposal: they agreed to increase bereavement leave from 3 days to 5 days, which is the bare minimum, consistent with UIC policy. They accepted our language stating that supervisors should not discourage employees from using sick time. However, they did not extend this language towards using personal days, even though members shared testimonials last week about how they were discouraged from using their personal day by supervisors despite this being a contractual guarantee that we receive one personal day without fear of retaliation or questioning. They also rejected our language expanding the circumstances under which employees can take bereavement leave, which represents the university’s failure to recognize that relationships beyond that of the nuclear family can be just as significant and devastating whereas the union’s position argues that employees deserve to take bereavement leave for whomever is close to them.

We caucused for the majority of the bargaining session. Many members voiced their anger and frustration with what the administration counter-proposed. Although some members mentioned that they didn’t usually need all the sick leave we are contractually given, they did note that this is because they are privileged enough to not have a chronic illness and misses the significance that the COVID-19 pandemic had on members . The membership in the room was clear—we need more sick leave in order to protect our members who are most vulnerable, and because our time to treatment can be so long within the UI Health confines  (especially for mental healthcare). We collectively agreed in the room that we would stand firm with the additional paid leave that we are requesting. What the university handed back to us was egregious and not even close to what our members need.

When we came back to the main session, both GEO and the administration presented our counter-proposals with the little time we had left. GEO agreed to take the Discipline and Dismissal counter-proposal, which we think we will be able to TA (tentatively agree) next session, and present it at the next bargaining session. GEO presented a counterproposal on Leaves and Holidays which made minor changes to the bereavement leave language, spelling out more clearly who employees can take bereavement for, a movement in good faith towards what the university passed to us. The University also passed us all their non-economic proposals of all the non-economic articles remaining to “get them on the table”. GEO did not have time to go through, but essentially what they gave us was proposals filled with no changes. GEO is taking these under consideration, but GEO maintains that we will pass proposals when we are ready to, and when we can have more of our membership in the room to assess what members want in our next contract. Because of this latter point, it is vital that members continue to show up in droves to our sessions-we need to hear your thoughts and your concerns! We need to organize together. Our next session will be July 20th, from 1-3pm Central Time via Zoom.

Session 5: June 22, 2021

GEO met with the UIC administration on Tuesday for our fifth session as we continue working hard at securing a fair contract for all of our members. This was our first 2 hour session, which we felt was much more productive and less taxing on our bargaining team members. We want to thank the members who showed up and provided incredibly helpful comments during our caucus sessions-that is one of the most important parts of bargaining, and coming to the sessions and being involved in the caucuses makes certain your voices are heard!

At the beginning of the session, we further explained and talked through why we had serious concerns and reservations with the Discipline and Dismissal counterproposal the administration gave us last time. We articulated that they removed a lot of what made our proposal a positive progressive discipline model, and were concerned that it seemed they removed steps of the discipline process, which we view as regressive from status quo contract language. After a productive conversation explaining our concerns, the university took their counterproposal back and re-worked it in a caucus session, and brought a new counter-proposal to the table which addressed some, but not all, of the concerns we mentioned. 

We also asked if the University had re-considered our Hours of Work and Class Size and No Strike, No Lockout proposal, asking again if they at least wanted to take it to a caucus session. The university again refused. We suspect we will have to continue pushing for this proposal, even though it is still nonsensical that the university is refusing BASIC contract language protections.

Next, we presented our Leaves and Holidays proposal. UIC recently changed its system-wide policy on parental and bereavement leave (increasing from 2 weeks to 6 weeks; and 3 days to 5 days). Our proposal expands upon this change, asking for 12 weeks of paid parental leave (as 6 weeks is still far too short), additional sick days, and updating our contract language to reflect the new bereavement leave change to 5 days. We also added language that made bereavement leave more expansive, allowing assistants to take up to 5 days of paid bereavement leave for anyone close to the assistant. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also added language that during any local/state/or federal medical emergency, GEO and the university will be able to negotiate for additional paid sick and parental leave. Finally, we added language that department heads/supervisors will not discourage assistants from using their contractual paid sick leave and personal day. Two members of the bargaining team shared personal experiences where this has happened to them, particularly with not taking a personal day, to show why this language and added protection is so important for us to add.

Both GEO and the University then spent the rest of the time in our caucus rooms. The GEO caucus room was very lively and productive-we got very close to finalizing a counterproposal on Discipline and Dismissal, and plan to pass that back in our next session. The university said they “hope” to give us a counterproposal on Leaves and Holidays. Our next session will be on Tuesday, July 6th, from 1-3pm via Zoom. It is important that we continue to show up in large numbers, especially as we get closer to Fall semester and start bringing forward the proposals crucial to our bargaining platform (for a reminder, see attached)!

Session 4: June 8, 2021

GEO met with the UIC administration on Tuesday for our fourth session as we continue making strides in securing a fair contract for all of our members. Even on a lovely summer day, our members still showed up in numbers better than in-person bargaining sessions over the summer in our previous contract campaign: nearly 30 members attended this session! 

We began by passing our counter-proposal for Hours of Work and Class Size, making movement by accepting the minor language changes that the university suggested on their last pass, but maintaining our language around reaching a mutually agreed upon class size limit in the event of another citywide health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. The university continued to reject this proposal, claiming that a crisis should be dealt with in impact bargaining; while this is true, we were seeking to set the parameters of any such impact bargaining in our contract.  It is crucial that workers have a say in their own working conditions in a health crisis.

Next, we passed over our changes to our Discipline and Dismissal article. Our changes to this article are largely superficial, reformatting and rearranging existing language for clarity and readability as in the past it has been very confusing to our members. We thought this wouldn’t be a huge deal-the same language, just ordered differently. Unexpectedly, the university caucused for 2 hours to discuss this proposal. When we returned, what was passed back to us continued to be unorganized and muddied, defeating the purpose of our changes to make it more clear to our members. Even worse, they also removed steps from our positive-progressive discipline model and recondensed language in a way which could allow for more severe discipline with less opportunity for assistants to address supervisor feedback. In the following caucus, members described it as “appalling” and “underhanded.”

Next we passed them a package proposal with our Hours of Work and Class Size and our No Strike No Lockout proposal. We made a significant concession and made movement towards the university by removing the language around mutually agreeing to class sizes during a health crisis. In exchange, we once more asked them to accept our No Strike, No Lockout proposal– standard language that all other campus unions have. The administration’s lead negotiator immediately rejected this package proposal, not even  giving the other members of his team a chance to discuss our compromise in caucus. They continue to maintain that they want to reserve the right to lock us out. This is alarming-a no lockout provision is a basic union protection. Several members voiced their alarm at this prospect during the ensuing debate with the university, discussing what a lockout would mean for us. The university failed to respond to questions and concerns from many members. We remain confused and frustrated that an administration that claims they want to hurry up and get our contract resolved would dig its heels in over language it has described as “completely standard.” In fact, the university yelled at us in our last bargaining session for not moving quickly enough in bargaining, even though we have agreed to articles in every session prior to this one and it is the university who refuses to even discuss our proposals in their caucus. We will continue to push for this protection, despite the university’s nonsensical obstinance to a standard protection.

At the end of the session, when we told the university that this new language in the Discipline and Dismissal counter proposal that UIC passed to us would make our working conditions worse was appalling, we were told that continued use of this word would start to lose its gumption. This is ironic, given that we are simply responding to the proposals that the university has the audacity to pass to us. We agree with the university’s initial stance that we would like to settle the contract quickly; however, this is becoming harder to believe with every *appalling* counter-proposal that they pass, as was mentioned by our members in the final caucus of the session. 

In 4 hours, little was accomplished; the university rejected our attempt to compromise, and tried to weaken our existing discipline and dismissal procedures. The most important change to come out of this session was that we agreed on a more frequent bargaining schedule, holding two hour sessions every two weeks. This was to make scheduling more feasible for our committee, but we are also optimistic that this will make sessions more productive and more accessible for members. Our next bargaining session will be on Tuesday, June 22nd, time TBD. It will be held via Zoom. Thank you to all the members who have been coming so far and especially to those who voiced their concerns at the table, and we will see you at the next session!

Session 3: May 18, 2021

GEO met with the UIC administration for our third session to bargain a new contract (if you missed the last two sessions, see those updates here). Even after the semester has just ended, we had about 30 members in the virtual room who stayed for the 4-hour long bargaining session, with our most lively caucus to date! To begin, we sent back our counter-proposals on the final two articles (Dues Deductions and Union Rights) we were seeking no/minimal changes to. Our counter-proposals on both of these articles, particularly Union Rights, stayed closer to status quo language, and the administration came back and we tentatively agreed (TA’ed) to those articles! We maintained the wins we won in Union Rights during the last contract cycle even though the administration tried to make changes that would have rolled back some of those wins-this is great, and it is because so many members have shown up and showed how important our wins were! 

For the remainder of the session, we discussed three articles: No Strike, Recognition, and Hours of Work/Class Size. Unfortunately, the administration rejected our changes to the No Strike article in our contract. We are seeking to add a No Lockout provision as well as sentences acknowledging that if the university needs to shut down or working conditions are too hazardous, the university and workers may respond appropriately without it being construed as a lockout or strike. No Lockout clauses are standard provisions of labor contracts and nearly universal–all of the other academic union contracts at UIC include a no lockout provision. However, the administration wants to “reserve the right” to lock graduate workers out of their offices, classrooms, and labs. Apparently because we are “temporary workers” who don’t plan to be at UIC indefinitely, we don’t deserve protection from such acts. When we pointed out that Visiting Lecturers (who contractually can only work at UIC for 3 years) receive this protection via the United Faculty contract, the administration’s lead negotiator replied “you got me there,” but still refused to budge. 

GEO also passed minor changes to the Recognition article in our contract to remove the statement that specifically bars Research Assistants from being covered in our contract. State law recently changed to allow RAs to unionize, and getting rid of this line in our contract is solely to update our contract to be consistent with state law. Removal of this line in our contract does not mean that RAs are automatically added to our bargaining unit, but if they wanted to unionize with TAs and GAs, they could choose GEO as the union body to represent them. The administration rejected this proposal, claiming we are putting the “cart before the horse”, even though we are simply trying to remain consistent with state law. Finally, GEO passed back a counterproposal to the administration’s Hours of Work/Class Size article, in which the administration was seeking minor changes. We added a sentence that hours of work expectations should be transparent as stipulated in our huge appointment terms win from last contract cycle and included in appointment letters. We also added in a sentence that if there is any contagious disease outbreak in the future, that class sizes will be mutually decided upon by the Union and the administration, as this was not done when the COVID-19 pandemic hit-most decisions were unilaterally decided by those at the top of the administration, with little to no input from the workers on the ground. The administration sent back a counter proposal mostly agreeing with our hours of work changes, but rejecting our class size changes. Next session, we will send them a counterproposal on hours of work/class sizes and continue to discuss No Strike and Recognition. 

We are still working with the administration on setting up a bargaining schedule for the summer that works for everyone, but we know for sure that we will have a bargaining session on June 8th, at 1pm CST over Zoom. We will continue to bring up more important issues as we continue with the bargaining sessions, and we need as many members as possible at these sessions for caucusing and working together to decide on responses to the university. Thank you to all the members who have been coming so far, and we will see you at the next session!

Session 2: April 27, 2021

GEO met with the UIC administration for our second session to bargain a new contract. Once again, GEO members showed up in mass and packed the virtual room-over 50 members showed up at the highest point of participation. We continued discussing the 4 contract articles we’re *not* seeking to change after we reached tentative agreements on the other 11 contract articles we were not seeking to change, and the admins tentatively agreed to no changes on 1 of those 4 remaining contract articles. They offered a counter-proposal that specifically added the Sexual Harassment and Discrimination training as a requirement in the TA/GA work rules article, which we tentatively agreed to after some minor word changes. The admins also offered counter proposals with changes to the Union Rights article, which details that departments with TAs and GAs are required to have GEO give a presentation at orientations and get basic information about our bargaining unit so we are able to reach grad workers (this was also an article where we got big wins in during our last contract cycle!). The admin’s counter proposal tried to add in language that would make it easier for the administration to not give us some information about our bargaining unit members that would make it harder to reach them, as well as tried to add language that would make it easier for departments to claim that the GEO presentation is voluntary during orientations. We fought hard to get into more orientations to reach new members, which is vital to our survival as a union and it’s one of the main places workers are informed of their rights within the contract. So, GEO gave a counter proposal that removed this language and tried to keep it closer to status quo language. The admin sent back another counter proposal, which GEO has taken and plans to respond to in the next session. Finally, the admin sent us a counter proposal on Dues Deductions (the final article we were seeking not to change), and first proposals on two articles that they were seeking no/limited changes to: Hours of Work/Class Size and the No Strike article. We have taken their Hours of Work/Class Size proposal under further advisement, but we sent back a counterproposal on the No Strike article that added in language around no management lockout, which is standard in labor contracts. The administration is taking our counter proposal under advisement and told us that we should expect a response in our next session. Overall, it was a very productive session, and we thank our members so much for attending, especially for providing your feedback in caucuses, which is the best way to be heard in these negotiations! 

Our next bargaining session is May 18th, at 1pm CST over Zoom. Keep showing up in large numbers to these sessions, even over the summer! We want more feedback from our members, and being there in the caucus breakout rooms is how the bargaining team can get that feedback which is vital to our organizing and bargaining power. We will send out more information on the bargaining session when we get closer to that date.

Session 1: April 13, 2021

GEO met with the UIC administration for our first session to bargain a new contract. We had over 100 GEO members from several departments pack the virtual room to show the admins that winning a fair contract matters to us all—this may have well been our most well attended bargaining session in GEO history! Due to the new virtual format for bargaining and as a courtesy to the University, GEO and the administration discussed at length the ground rules for use of zoom, including disabling the chat-saving feature, the rule of no recording or live-streaming the negotiations, and etiquette at the bargaining table. An agreement was made regarding use of zoom and we thank members for their opinions, engagement, and patience.

Since this was the first session, we discussed the 15 contract articles that we’re *not* seeking to change. These include subjects like union recognition, employee rights, and training. We reached tentative agreements with the admins to not change 11 of those articles. For the articles they want to change, we got them to commit to providing their own counter-proposals at the next session. In other words, we made some very good headway for the first day and had a productive bargaining session.

Our next bargaining session will be Tuesday, April 27th, at 1pm. We need to continue to pack the room to show the admins that we are serious about winning a fair contract for all! We will send out more information on the bargaining session when we get closer to that date.