This was originally posted on Labor Notes.
The Graduate Employees Organization, which represents teaching assistants at the University of Illinois at Chicago, reached an agreement with school administrators late Monday night that union negotiators said met members' demands.
GEO members, Local 6297 of the Teachers (AFT), had been working without a contract since August 2009 and had been in negotiations with the university for more than a year. The major sticking point was the university’s refusal to include tuition waivers in the contract, which the union said would allow the administration to grant partial waivers and make arbitrary alterations to a key economic item for members.
The agreement, which still needs to be ratified GEO members, secured tuition waiver security, a 2 percent increase to the $14,000 minimum yearly stipend, and increased transparency in “tuition differential” charges and other fees.
The differentials create a backdoor tuition that allows departments to charge graduate students for registration, services, and office supplies. The fees vary from department to department, but GEO says some members pay as much as $11,000.
The agreement came after a 13-hour mediation session between the union’s bargaining team and the administration. Hundreds of GEO supporters rallied before negotiators entered the meeting, and continued to rally outside the meeting for most of the day.
GEO was ready to strike if the unions’ demands of tuition waiver guarantees and having a say in supplemental fees were not met. GEO members had voted in February to authorize a strike by 84 percent of the 1,400 members.
The administration may have come to the conclusion that it should cave by learning the lesson of its sister campus, the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where administrators provoked a two-day strike in November, shutting down many university buildings and sending administrators scrambling to settle.
“Because of your organizing,” said GEO Organizer Jason Leto in a statement, “the bargaining team was able to walk away from the table with a contract that makes important gains, and protects the benefits we currently have.”