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

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

Today was our 27th bargaining session, the fifth since the strike began.

At the beginning of the session, the administration still did not have a counter to our proposal on fees or to our proposal on the right of GEO to not be denied access to departmental orientations for new TAs to inform them of their workplace rights. They still demanded that we step down further on our wages proposal, with nothing in return. In an effort to move things forward, we offered to make some movement in exchange for them agreeing to our proposal on access to departmental orientations, since this is a non-economic proposal that wouldn’t cost the university a penny. They rejected this offer.

Then, literally 5 minutes before the session ended, they finally gave us a counter-proposal addressing fees. Their proposal is to create a side letter to the contract saying in academic year 2019-20 only, the planned $50-per-semester increase to the General Fee will be offset with a matching increase to the campus minimum wage. This means that next year only, anyone making the campus minimum would see an extra $50 per semester, presumably in addition to whatever raise we get. The side letter also says that next year only, the university will not increase the cost of the International Student Fee. However, there was already no plan to increase this fee next year that anyone is aware of.

At that same moment we were given this proposal–with 5 minutes left in the session–we were told the admins would be on campus to meet with us tomorrow and expected us to show up, even though these sessions are supposed to be and have always been scheduled by mutual agreement. We’ve held three sessions this week, and only at the last minute today they gave us something on fees and pressured us into coming in on a Saturday to give our counter offer.

After the session ended, the GEO bargaining team put together a package proposal on all the outstanding issues, including fees, wages, and healthcare. On fees, we are still seeking that most of the General Fee and International Student Fee be waived and that any new fees automatically be waived until GEO can negotiate them. On wages, we’re seeking a 24 percent increase by the 2020-2021 academic year, which would still have us making $5,000-$9,000 less than our counterparts at Chicago’s other Research 1 universities. And on healthcare, we’re still seeking a cap on the Campus Care fee and for the university to partially cover the cost of dependent care. For a university that has been throwing around a lot of money on new buildings and huge bonuses for top administrators–a university that claims it wants to be attractive to working-class students, students of color, and international students–we feel this is all very reasonable and doable.

We emailed this proposal to the admins this afternoon, saying they can take a look at it now and we will come in tomorrow to meet for one hour, from 12 to 1, in UH 650, to see if they have any response. We also let them know that in the future we will refuse any sessions proposed in the manner in which this one was proposed. They’ve been playing a game of tag on who hands which proposal last, forcing us to waste our time. But they now have our counter-proposal on all outstanding issues and we will be there for an hour tomorrow in an effort to settle the strike. The ball is in their court.

In solidarity,
GEO Bargaining Team

Today was our 26th bargaining session, the fourth since our strike began.

The administration still did not have a response to the proposal we gave them on Tuesday on waiving and capping fees. We had also given them a proposal on Tuesday on not denying GEO the right to speak at departmental orientations for new TAs to be able to inform new grad workers about their workplace rights and give them an opportunity to join the union, something the administration has previously been opposed to. They did not have a response to this either today.
The federal mediator told us he thinks the administration still has no willingness to have the General Fee or International Student Fee be reduced, capped, or waived in any way. He suggested the admins might only consider offsetting future increases to the General Fee by having a wage raise in the same amount of the increase (which, unlike a waiver, would be taxable because it would be part of our wages), though they have not actually made a proposal to us on this. The members in the bargaining room had a very long caucus discussion about this, trying to think about creative ways to end the stalemate in negotiations, ultimately concluding that we still need meaningful relief on fees.
We will hold another bargaining session tomorrow, 10am to 12pm, in UH 650. By agreeing to so many bargaining sessions but without being willing to change their position, it feels to many of us that the admins are simply trying to waste our time and use up our energy instead of reaching a settlement.
Also, to clarify something mentioned in the last bargaining update: when the police told us on Tuesday we couldn’t bring picket signs into UH, they specifically meant signs on sticks, and we still brought in signs without sticks. There were no police present at today’s session that we could see.
In solidarity,
GEO Bargaining Team