Labor Updates and Resources

GEO Negotiations

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Teaching assistants and graduate assistants are valued members of our campus community and we depend on their expertise, experience and dedication. We respect the Graduate Employees’ Organization’s commitment to representing the best interests of its membership as we work together towards a new agreement. Through good faith, transparent and fair negotiations, we are confident that we will find common ground and reach an agreement that will make this a better university for all of us. 

Robert J. Jones, Chancellor
John P. Wilkin, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost

Outstanding Bargaining Issues
Appointment Terms

GEO Position -  The GEO is seeking to impose a requirement that all graduate employees be given notices of appointments (offer letters) at least 60 days in advance of the start of their appointment and that a financial penalty be imposed on the University if it fails for whatever reason to meet that deadline. 

University Position -  The University will strive to provide offer letters to employees being reappointed into a graduate teaching assistantship for the fall semester by July 16. 

Wages

GEO Position -  The GEO is seeking an 8% increase to the minimum wage, and a 4% increase, for all graduate employees.

University Position -  The University maintains that both the minimum wage and any wage increases for graduate employees should be determined in accordance with the percentage increase announced by the Chancellor and Provost as part of any campus-wide general salary program for each academic year. 

Fee Waivers

GEO Position -  The GEO is seeking to have the University waive all student fees for graduate employees.

University Position -  Represented graduate employees currently have over seventy-two percent (72%) of their student fees waived.  Waiver of the few remaining fees would impact the University’s ability to capture certain costs and would need to be approved through an administrative process involving the Provost’s Office.

Health Care

GEO Position -  The GEO is seeking to have the University:

(1) contribute ninety percent (90%) of the fee for dependent coverage through the McKinley Health Center and the Counseling Center;
(2) increase its contribution towards the Student Health Insurance fee for graduate employees by fifteen percent (15%) and contribute ninety percent ( 90%) of the fee for dependent coverage; and
(3) contribute ninety-five percent (95%) of the fee for coverage during the summer for those assistants who do not hold a tuition waiver generating appointments during the summer term. 

University Position -  The University has offered to increase the contribution that it makes on behalf of graduate employees towards their Student Health Insurance fee by proposing to increase the minimum dollar contribution or contributing eighty-three percent (83%) of the cost of that fee, whichever is less.      

Child Care Subsidy

GEO Position -  The GEO is seeking:

    (1)to have the University grant a child care subsidy in the amount of $2,250 each semester for every graduate assistant who requests the subsidy;
    (2) GEO representation on the Student Parent Advisory Council; and
    (3) to have the University distribute information regarding the child care resources available to graduate assistants upon admission and at the start of each academic term. 

University Position -  The University is willing to have language added to the collective bargaining agreement confirming its continued commitment to inform graduate students of the child care resources available to them, through its Student-Parent website.  The University also maintains that the graduate student population already is being represented by the presence of a graduate student on the Student Parent Advisory Council. 

Side Letter

GEO Position -  The GEO is seeking no change to the current language of the side letter. 

University Position -  The University is seeking to have the language of the side letter modified to accurately reflect the original intent of that letter and to restore the ability of the University to manage the tuition waiver program to meet its operational and budgetary needs in accordance with its management rights. The language proposed by the University is not intended to diminish nor reduce the tuition waivers being offered to individual graduate students.  

Duration

GEO Position -   The GEO is seeking a collective bargaining agreement that will be limited in duration to one (1) year.

University Position -  The University is seeking a five (5) year collective bargaining agreement.

Tentative Agreements

The parties have reached agreement on the following twelve (12) provisions:

      • Recognition Clause
      • Nondiscrimination Statement
      • Evaluations
      • Hours of Work
      • Employee Rights
      • Expenses
      • Distribution of Information
      • Dues and Fair Share Deductions
      • Holidays and Leaves, including a new provision on immigration-related leave as well as a revision to the parental leave provision.   
      • Grievance Procedures
      • Health & Safety
      • Effect of Federal and State Law

GEO FAQ 2017
Tuition Waivers

Q:        Is the University trying to take away tuition waivers?
A:        No, the University remains committed to offering tuition waivers to its graduate students and will not alter the waiver being offered through an assistantship to a graduate student enrolled in a tuition waiver generating program as long as the student maintains good academic standing and continues to make appropriate progress toward their degree, even if the program’s designation should be modified after they have enrolled.  The University simply wants to preserve its ability, as reflected within the management rights clause of the collective bargaining agreement, to develop new graduate programs, assess and review current programs, and re-designate, suspend or terminate programs when necessary. 

Q:        How much is the tuition waiver worth?
A:        Nearly 69% of GEO members hold 50% appointments, which means they are required to work part-time, 20 hours a week for up to nine months each year. On average, those members are paid at the rate of $23.87 an hour and earn approximately $2,145.34 each month.  When the value of the tuition and fee waivers are factored in, the average annual compensation offered to these members ranges from $31,852 to $56,594 based upon their nine-month, fifty-percent appointment.   

Compensation

Q:        How much do GEO members earn?
A:        While the amount will vary between disciplines, graduate employees are paid for the services that they perform at the following rates (excluding the value of their tuition waivers and other benefits):

  • The average hourly wage rate is $23.87
  • The minimum hourly wage rate is $20.97
  • The highest hourly wage rate is $38.56

In contrast, the living wage for Champaign County for one adult, presumably working full-time, is $10.42 per hour.

    • Living Wage - $10.42/hour
    • Poverty Wage - $5.00/hour
    • Minimum Wage - $8.25/hour

GEO members holding a fifty-percent (50%) assistantship

  • Comprise 69% of the membership (1957 employees)
  • On average, earn a monthly salary of $2,145.34
  • The minimum monthly rate for a 50% assistantship is $1,817.78, while the highest monthly rate is $3,342.01             
  • When tuition and fee waivers are factored in (but excluding leave benefits),  the average hourly rate is estimated to be between $40.83 and $68.84
  • The value of the tuition and fee waivers received for a nine-month appointment is estimated to be between $15,492 and $37,334
  • When tuition and fee waivers are factored in (but excluding leave benefits),  the average annual compensation ranges from $31,852 to $56,594 based upon a nine-month, fifty-percent appointment, which exceeds the listed 2017-18 Graduate Estimated Expenses of $22,654
Financials

Q:        Why can’t the University provide the wage increases sought by the GEO?
A:        The GEO has maintained that the University is spending its monies on a bloated administration and on unnecessary vanity projects.  In actuality, the University endured a $140M cash shortfall during fiscal year 2016 (FY16), which resulted in budget reductions during FY16 and fiscal year 2017 (FY17) totaling $69M.  Thirty-nine percent (39%), or $27.16M, of this reduction occurred to the budgets for the administrative units and other centrally budgeted units, rather than to the colleges.  In addition, capital projects, including the renovation of buildings, are funded through sources that are separate and distinct from employment-related funds. Capital projects often are financed through grants, endowments and donations that are specifically earmarked for the project at hand.   

Benefits

Q:        In addition to the compensation and waivers granted to GEO members, what benefits are they given?
A:        The University offers a generous benefit package to GEO members that includes both leave and other forms of benefits.

Leave Benefits

Sick Leave – 13 non-cumulative days of sick leave are provided

  • 6 ½ days for a semester appointment
  • Days of sick leave are measured by the employee’s “work day,” rather than being measured in terms of 8 hours
  • Parental Leave – two paid weeks and 4 additional, unpaid weeks of parental leave are provided

    Floating Holidays – 2 paid floating holidays are provided to be used at the employee’s pleasure

    Bereavement Leave

      Up to 3 days of paid bereavement leave is provided upon the death of

    • Immediate family member
    • Domestic partner
    • Household member
    • In-laws
    • Grandparents and/or grandchildren
    • 1 day of paid bereavement leave is provided upon the death of a relative other than those listed above who is not a member of the household

Other Benefits (Excluding Leave Benefits)

  • Campus Recreational Facilities – faculty and staff must pay $480.00 each year to use these facilities
  • University Paid Access to McKinley Health Center and Counseling Center
    • Office visits with doctors, nurse practitioners, mental health therapists and health educators, as well as most x-rays and laboratory tests at no additional out-of-pocket expense.
    • Many immunizations and medications are offered at low cost or no cost.
  • University Paid Dental Insurance
  • University Paid Vision Insurance
  • Fees – GEO members are exempt from having to pay $2,395 in fees each academic year that are endured by other graduate students who do not hold an assistantship
Background

Q:        What is the GEO?
A:        The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) is a labor organization or union that represents a bargaining unit on the Urbana-Champaign campus that is comprised of approximately 2,700 graduate students who are employed as either teaching assistants or graduate assistants.

Q:        Who is represented by GEO?
A:        The GEO represents a bargaining unit comprised of graduate teaching assistants and graduate assistants holding tuition waiver generating appointments between .25 full-time equivalent (FTE) and .67 FTE. 

Q:        What is an assistantship?
A:        Through an assistantship, a graduate student performs services in exchange for compensation and other benefits, including tuition waivers, certain fee waivers, health insurance and other fringe benefits.

Resources

Q.        Whom can I contact if I have questions or want more information?
A.        You may contact the Office of Academic Human Resources, specifically Heather Horn, Assistant Director of Labor and Employee Relations, hwilson@illinois.edu, 333-6747 or Sharon Reynolds, Associate Director, sreynlds@illinois.edu, 333-6747.


Updates

November 7, 2017 Bargaining Session Recap
(17th Overall Bargaining Session/5th Mediation Session)

The parties held another full-day bargaining session that was attended by federal mediators. The University sought to continue the dialogue over the notification of appointment provisions of the bargaining agreement by offering a proposed memorandum of understanding at the outset of the session. That memorandum sought to facilitate the parties’ ongoing efforts to identify ways to improve the timing of notifications of appointment through the creation of a joint committee to review the matter and propose a suitable process. In conjunction with the memorandum, the University also expressed its commitment to improving the notification process and its goal of being able to notify the majority of its reappointed teaching assistants at least thirty (30) calendar days in advance of their appointments by the 2019-2020 academic year. Near the conclusion of the session, the GEO expressed, through the mediators, that it was rejecting the proposed memorandum of understanding in favor of retaining the current language of the bargaining agreement.

The University also sought to initiate dialogue on the side letter proposal that it originally introduced at a bargaining session in June 2017 by submitting a package proposal to the GEO, which incorporated both the side letter proposal and a proposed resolution to an earlier arbitration decision involving the side letter. At the end of the session, the GEO through the mediators expressed no interest in discussing the University’s side letter proposal.

The University also continues to seek a counter proposal from the GEO to its wage proposal. Even though the University already has modified its original proposal so as to offer guaranteed increases to both the minimum and base salaries for graduate employees during the first year of the contract in order to make those increases commensurate with the increases offered to other employee groups on this campus during this academic year, the GEO has not deviated at all from its original wage proposal offered on March 30, 2017.  The GEO continues to seek an eight percent (8%) increase to the minimum wage rate and a four percent (4%) increase to continuing appointments.

The University is hopeful that a dialogue can occur on these various provisions, as well on the health care proposal that was offered recently by the University that would increase the University’s contributions to the graduate employee’s health insurance premiums, at the next bargaining session, which is tentatively scheduled for November 16, 2017.

Previous Updates
October 31, 2017 Bargaining Session Recap (16th Overall Bargaining Session/4th Mediation Session)

The University and the Graduate Employees’ Organization met with federal mediators for a fourth time on October 31, 2017.  At the outset of that session, the GEO responded to the comprehensive package proposal that had been submitted by the University at the preceding session.  In its package counterproposal, the GEO addressed four of the remaining seven articles, namely appointment terms, fee waivers, healthcare, and child care.  The GEO’s counterproposal did not address the University’s last proposals relating to wages, the side letter or the duration of the agreement. 
  
During the session, the University revised its comprehensive package proposal to include a greater proposed contribution to the graduate employees’ health insurance premiums.  The parties also continued to address the timing of appointment notices to graduate employees in light of the various operational factors (such as registration periods, undergraduate and graduate enrollments, changes in course offerings, budgetary constraints) that impact or influence the timing of such notices.  The GEO also submitted a proposed memorandum of understanding at the conclusion of the session, which put forth a potential resolution to an arbitration decision addressing the side letter. 
     
The University remains confident that the parties can negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that will be fair to both sides as it prepares for the next mediation session scheduled for November 7, 2017. 

October 24, 2017 Bargaining Session Recap (15th Overall Bargaining Session/3rd Mediation Session)

The University and the GEO made progress towards achieving a successor bargaining agreement with the continued assistance of federal mediators. In an effort to be responsive to several outstanding issues, the University initiated the session by submitting a package proposal addressing a number of provisions on which the University believed the parties could either reach agreement or withdraw. Ultimately, the parties reached tentative agreement on the following four (4) provisions, extending the total number of tentative agreements reached between the parties to twelve (12): 

- Effect of State and Federal Law
- Distribution of Union-related Information
- Grievance Procedure
- Health and Safety

In an effort to resolve the seven (7) remaining provisions, the University submitted a revised comprehensive package proposal addressing: (1) appointment terms, (2) wages, (3) fee waivers, (4) health care, (5) child care, (6) the side letter, and (7) the duration of the agreement. The University is looking forward to receiving the GEO’s response to that package proposal at the next session, which is scheduled for October 31, 2017.

October 10, 2017 Bargaining Session Recap (14th Overall Bargaining Session/2nd Mediation Session)

The University and the GEO met on October 10, joined for the second time by a federal mediator. The University opened the session by submitting a revised package proposal addressing (1) appointment terms, (2) the grievance procedure, (3) distribution of union-related information, and (4) health and safety. At this session, the discussion focused on the appointment terms article, particularly on the timing of the notices of appointment/reappointment to graduate employees. The University continues to work with the GEO to find language that provides graduate employees sufficient notification of their appointments while recognizing the operational factors that impact the timing of notices, such as registration periods, undergraduate and graduate student enrollments, changes in course offerings, budgetary/funding considerations, among others.

At today’s session, the GEO also submitted counterproposals on Health Care and Child Care, which the University will review in preparation for our next session, scheduled for October 24, 2017.

As previous summaries indicate, the parties have reached tentative agreement on eight provisions, relating to:

  • Recognition Clause
  • Nondiscrimination Statement
  • Evaluations
  • Hours of Work
  • Employee Rights
  • Expenses
  • Dues and Fair Share Deductions
  • Holidays and Leaves, including a new provision on immigration-related leave as well as a revision to the parental leave provision. 

The University remains confident that the parties can continue to work together to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that is fair to all parties affected by this agreement.

October 3, 2017 Bargaining Session Recap (13th Overall Bargaining Session/1st Mediation Session)

A federal mediator joined the GEO and the University for the first time as they continued their negotiations over a successor collective bargaining agreement. At this session, the GEO submitted a counterproposal to the University’s latest package proposal addressing (1) appointment terms, (2) the grievance procedure, (3) distribution of union-related information, and (4) health and safety. The focus of this session was on understanding the operational factors that affect the timing of appointment notices and accommodating those operational concerns while giving graduate employees sufficient notification of their appointments as far in advance as possible. The parties will continue to work with the mediator in addressing the GEO’s counterproposal when they meet again next week, on October 10, 2017, for another session.    

September 5, 2017 RE-CAP (12th Bargaining Session)

During this session, the University and the GEO reached tentative agreement on three additional articles, bringing the total number of tentative agreements to eight.  The articles on which tentative agreements were reached in this session relate to employee rights, dues and fair share deductions, and holidays and leaves, and include a new provision on immigration as well as revisions to the parental leave provision.
   
The parties also continued to discuss proposals relating to appointment terms, grievance procedures, distribution of information, and health and safety.  Regarding renewal of appointments, the University continues to strive for language that gives employees predictability while at the same time recognizing operational factors that also affect the timing of appointment notices.

Based upon a request made by the GEO at the end of the bargaining session, the parties intend to seek the use of a federal mediator for future negotiation sessions.   

August 24, 2017 RE-CAP (11th Bargaining Session)

The University presented a package counter-proposal addressing the issues previously raised by the GEO regarding the articles on employee rights, dues deduction and fair share, leaves and holidays, and child care.  The University responded to a number of questions raised by the GEO specific to the revised parental leave section.  Because the University provided the last counter proposal, we requested the GEO submit its written counter-proposal on these articles for the University to review.

The parties also resumed a discussion regarding the grievance and health and safety articles.  The University asked a number of clarifying questions about the GEO’s proposed language on the grievance procedures.  The University will review and seek to address the grievance and health and safety articles at the next bargaining session, which is scheduled for September 5, 2017.  

August 15, 2017 RE-CAP (10th Bargaining Session)

The session commenced with the University’s submission of a revised package counterproposal addressing employee rights, dues deductions and fair share, and leaves and holidays.  Consistent with the preceding session, the primary focus was on the language contained within the new proposed section on immigration.  As reflected in the continued dialogue on that section, the parties share a common interest in ensuring that our graduate employees are supported and provided necessary resources when confronted with an immigration matter that may impact their employment.

The GEO submitted a counterproposal relating to the establishment of a child care subsidy for eligible graduate employees, as well as a counterproposal relating to the grievance procedure.  The University will review those two counterproposals in preparation for the next bargaining session that is scheduled for August 24, 2017. 

August 8, 2017 RE-CAP (9th Bargaining Session)

The University is pleased to report that the parties were able to reach a tentative agreement on five articles within the collective bargaining agreement that address union recognition, nondiscrimination, evaluations, hours of work and expenses.

The parties also continued to discuss issues and proposed language relating to the articles on employee rights, dues deductions and fair share, and leaves and holidays, with a particular focus on a new immigration section that the GEO is seeking to have added to the article on leaves and holidays.  At the end of these discussions, the GEO submitted a counterproposal relating to the three articles, which the University will review and address at the next bargaining session scheduled for August 15, 2017.  Based on the ongoing discussions, the University is optimistic that a tentative agreement can be reached soon on those three articles as well.  

July 25, 2017 RE-CAP (8th Bargaining Session)

The University presented a package counter-proposal addressing the issues previously raised by the GEO regarding the articles on recognition, nondiscrimination, evaluations, hours of work and expenses.  Although the parties engaged in dialogue and made progress on each of the five articles, much of the focus was on the nondiscrimination article and which classifications should be deemed protected under that article.

The parties also resumed a discussion regarding the immigration and visa leave section of the article on leaves and holidays. After noting that the parties share a common interest in assisting graduate employees with immigration and visa issues, the University asked a number of clarifying questions.  The University remains committed to working with the GEO on drafting a mutually acceptable provision that addresses the complex concerns arising out of the immigration and visa process.

Towards the end of the bargaining session, the GEO submitted a package counter-proposal relating to employee rights, the use of pronouns, and health and safety, which the University will review and seek to address at the next bargaining session, which is scheduled for August 8, 2017.  

July 11, 2017 RE-CAP (7th Bargaining Session)

The University responded to a number of questions raised by the GEO at the last session relating to the University’s wage proposal, its financial status, and its current contract with the carrier providing health insurance to graduate students.

The GEO, in turn, submitted a package counter-proposal in response to the comprehensive proposal presented by the University at the last session. This counter-proposal reflected some agreement between the parties on certain provisions. In discussing their counter-proposals, the GEO offered some guidance on the importance placed on certain proposals by its constituents.

June 20, 2017 Re-Cap (6th Bargaining Session)

The University presented a comprehensive proposal addressing all of the issues raised within the negotiations, both economic and non-economic.  Because the University has responded to each of the proposals submitted by the GEO, the University is now seeking, and specifically requested, that the GEO submit its written counter-proposals for the University to review.

While the GEO raised concerns regarding the University’s proposal to modify the side letter in the collective bargaining agreement, the University continues to maintain that these modifications are necessary to restore the University's original intent of the side letter and to bring clarity to the administration of tuition waivers.  The University remains committed to continuing to offer tuition waiver generating assistantships to its graduate students as part of its ongoing efforts to attract and retain graduate students of the highest caliber. The University recognizes, though, that tuition waivers must be administered in a manner that does not put academic programs at risk and, thereby, diminish opportunities for students to participate in those programs.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for July 11, 2017.   

June 6, 2017 Re-Cap (5th Bargaining Session)

The University presented a prepared proposal relating to the side letter contained within the collective bargaining agreement. Because arbitrators have misconstrued the original intent behind the side letter, the University is seeking to modify the language of the side letter to add clarity and restore the original intent of the letter. Recognizing our continued commitment to attracting and retaining the best graduate students through competitive assistantship opportunities and corresponding tuition waivers, the proposal is not intended to diminish or reduce the tuition waivers offered to graduate students.

Despite having differing views on how to negotiate and address proposals, the University is satisfied with the progress being made in bargaining to date and recognizes that it shares with the GEO a common interest on a number of issues.

The parties will meet again on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, for their sixth bargaining session.

May 23, 2017 Re-Cap (4th Bargaining Session)

The University presented to the GEO a comprehensive proposal that addressed all of the non-economic issues that have been raised in the negotiations, and thereby responded to fourteen of nineteen total proposals.  The University confirmed that the five outstanding economic proposals that will be addressed in upcoming negotiation sessions relate to wages, fee waiver (a new provision proposed by the GEO), healthcare, child care (a new provision proposed by the GEO), and the side letter addressing tuition waivers.


Contact Information

Specific labor relations questions associated with Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants (Administrative) should be directed to:

Name Title Email Phone
Heather Horn Assistant Director hwilson@illinois.edu (217) 333-0033
Sharon Reynolds Associate Director sreynlds@illinois.edu (217) 333-0033