Labor Updates and Resources

2022 GEO Negotiations

July 29, 2022, Bargaining Session Recap
(8th Bargaining Session)

On July 29, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) and the University had their eighth (8th) negotiation session. The Parties met for three (3) hours. The session began with the GEO asking if the University had a full economic proposal to present. The University explained that it is still asking questions about the Union’s proposals. The GEO stated that the contract expires in 17 days and the union wanted to know when it would receive an economic proposal. The University noted that it had addressed the expiration of the contract in the previous session, explaining that the contract does not expire and is extended as long as the Parties continue to bargain, and neither party has requested the contract’s termination. Next, the GEO asked if the University could provide its questions prior to the bargaining sessions so it could be prepared to answer questions and expedite the process. The University responded that it prefers to have the questions presented in a conversational format for the bargaining record.

The majority of the session was spent discussing the GEO’s proposals related to wages, healthcare, and childcare. The University noted that in the previous session it had asked why the GEO used Rutgers and Michigan as comparisons and not Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State, which are more similar in size and cost of living. The GEO responded that it believes the University has the resources to pay at the top of the Big 10, and that Illinois labor law is similar to Michigan and New Jersey, but less similar to Iowa and Wisconsin. The University noted that the GEO did not reference Pennsylvania labor laws, which are very similar to Illinois’s. The GEO clarified that it was basing the comparison on universities that have collective bargaining agreements and who offer a high level of benefits. The University then asked the GEO why it proposed changing the definition of reappointments, to which the GEO responded that as its members work, they gain experience and become better at the job, and that the University should recognize that experience by providing an increase. The Parties then discussed the GEO’s previous information request regarding increases for its members and the University’s salary budget, with the University providing an update regarding information it plans to provide. Following a caucus of approximately 30 minutes, the Parties continued discussing the information request, at which time it became apparent that the GEO was not clear whether it was asking for historical information regarding increases for the previous academic year, or potential increases for the upcoming academic year. As a result of the GEO’s difficulty clarifying their information requests, the University noted that the GEO has made multiple statements about the pace of negotiations and pointed out that after the University asked approximately four questions, the GEO caucused for approximately 30 minutes. The University stated that negotiations can go faster when the Parties understand their proposals and can explain them. The GEO claimed this statement was condescending, and the University stated it was not condescending but direct, and that it expects that chief negotiators understand their proposals.

The GEO restated its rationale for its healthcare proposal, which includes no-cost healthcare for dependents, stating that it was comparing to other Big 10 universities that provide 100% coverage for dependent healthcare. The University asked what peer institutions provide 100% coverage for dependents, and the GEO responded that University of Michigan provides this coverage. The GEO also clarified that it is proposing that all graduate workers be auto enrolled in summer healthcare unless they opt out. The University noted that the GEO’s proposals regarding mental healthcare include several proposals that indicate staffing levels and asked if these proposals include staffing minimums, which the University is not obligated to bargain. Following a caucus of approximately 25 minutes, the GEO asked the University to reiterate the question. After the University restated the question, the GEO responded that it is proposing minimum staffing levels but understands that University is not obligated to bargain this subject. The University asked the GEO how its proposal stating that the University must bargain alterations to the terms of health coverage, including carriers, would comply with the Illinois Procurement Code. The GEO was not familiar with the Illinois Procurement Code, and the University explained that the proposal appeared to violate the Code, making it an illegal proposal. The GEO requested information related to health coverage before moving on to its proposals on childcare.

The University asked the GEO how it came to the numbers it is proposing for childcare subsidies and the GEO responded that it looked at the average cost of daycare for one child in Illinois. The University noted the GEO’s proposal that an unlimited number of spaces be reserved for graduate workers’ children at several University schools and childcare centers and asked what the anticipated usage would be. The GEO responded that this is why it had requested the number of dependents of its members, and the University noted that it may not have that type of information available. The University also asked the GEO why it included the University Laboratory School on the list when school-age children could attend an area public school, and the GEO stated it would need to respond at another time.

To conclude the session, the Parties discussed scheduling and the University’s ground rules proposal. The University noted that the Parties are scheduled to have their first in-person session on August 25, and it needs to know how many people the GEO would like the space to accommodate. The GEO was reluctant to provide numbers, stating that it had provided room recommendations that would meet its needs. The University explained that it needs to know the number of people for which the room should be set, and that the recommended rooms may not be available. The GEO then asked the University how it defines “bargaining committee” as it relates to the limit of 30 people from each side to attend a bargaining session. The University explained that this includes those on the bargaining team along with any other members of the GEO. Following this clarification, the GEO stated that it expected to have approximately 80 people attend the August 25 session.

The Parties’ next session is scheduled for August 11.

July 15, 2022, Bargaining Session Recap
(7th Bargaining Session)

On July 15, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) and the University had their seventh (7th) negotiation session. The parties met for two (2) hours. The session began with the parties continuing to discuss the ground rules for negotiations. The University presented a proposal that requires the parties to find a venue that can accommodate the anticipated GEO membership turnout, but would normally be limited to thirty (30) participants on each side. The University continues to insist on receiving information related to the anticipated number of in-person participants in order to find adequate space for the negotiation sessions.

The parties then spent the bulk of the negotiation session discussing the GEO’s proposals related to travel reimbursement, information requests and wages. The GEO is seeking that travel reimbursements be issued within ten (10) business days. The University asked what concerns and issues have occurred during the term of the agreement. The GEO claimed there have been inconsistencies in reimbursement processes and are seeking consistent responses. The parties then discussed the GEO’s desire for improvements in the sharing of information. The University maintains they are responsive to the GEO’s information requests as long as: (1) the information is readily available; (2) the information requested is substantially pertinent to the negotiation/administration of the collective bargaining agreement; and (3) the response to the request is not unduly burdensome to compile. Next, the parties discussed the GEO’s proposal to increase the minimum wage for assistants from $19,300 to $26,297 for a fifty percent (50%) appointment on a nine (9) month service basis. The GEO stated the living wage for Champaign-Urbana defined by the MIT living wage calculator is $35,672 and that $26,297 gets them closer to a living wage. The University asked the GEO if the union considered the tuition waiver as compensation. After a caucus, the GEO responded that the tuition waiver is a form of compensation, but it is not something that pays bills or puts food in their mouths. The University responded that the current campus minimum of $19,300, when figured on an hourly basis, is greater than the current cost of living amount for the Champaign-Urbana area referenced by the GEO. The University then asked the GEO how they came to the amount of $26,297 for their initial proposal. The GEO responded that the amount was the difference between the minimums for Rutgers University and the University of Michigan. The University responded that the GEO should have also considered the minimums at Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa when making their proposal, as those universities share more comparable demographic and cost of living data. The session concluded with the GEO requesting information related to the University’s budget guidelines

The parties’ next negotiation is scheduled for July 29.

June 22, 2022, Bargaining Session Recap
(6th Bargaining Session)

On June 22, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) and the University had their sixth (6th) negotiation session. The parties met for three (3) hours. The session began with the parties continuing to discuss the ground rules for negotiations. The GEO presented a proposal which requires the parties to find a venue that can accommodate the anticipated GEO membership turnout, but without a cap on the number of participants. The University continues to insist on a specific maximum number of in-person participants  to create an environment more conducive to reaching a settlement and to create additional opportunities to find space for the negotiation sessions.  It is important to remember that the University has agreed to a hybrid option, which would allow more than thirty (30) GEO members to witness the negotiation sessions.

The parties spent the bulk of the negotiation session discussing the GEO’s proposals in the Employee Rights Article. The GEO is seeking numerous additions to the article. The GEO is asking for internet access to be provided at no charge whether an individual is working on or off campus. The GEO requested information on current University policies related to Wi-Fi access. Specifically, the request is seeking the number of individuals who have requested and benefited from these policies and have been provided funding since the pandemic began. The GEO is also seeking that the University provide personal protective equipment selected by the assistant at no charge to the Assistant. The parties then discussed the GEO’s desire for improvements in lactation areas for nursing mothers. The GEO requested information related to the location of lactation rooms throughout campus. Next, the parties discussed the GEO’s proposal which prohibits any reduction in the number of Graduate Assistants and Teaching Assistants without the approval of the GEO. The University maintains the right to determine the size and composition of its workforce and believes that this specific proposal is outside the scope of bargaining. The GEO also has a proposal which allows Assistants to determine how best to complete assignments, including the prioritization of work. The University maintains the right to assign and prioritize work and views this proposal as an infringement on those management’s rights. The parties next discussed the union’s proposal on free speech and academic freedom. The GEO is seeking the right to express in their work environment their political beliefs and/or affiliations. The University believes that this is an expansion of Academic Freedom and the University Senate is the appropriate venue for those discussions. The negotiation session then progressed to discussions about restrooms. The GEO is seeking infant changing stations in all restrooms and at least one all-gender restroom in each building. The GEO requested information related to the location of all changing tables and gender-neutral restrooms throughout campus. Following the restroom discussion, the parties discussed intellectual property rights and student discipline for union-related activities. The GEO stated their student discipline concern is limited to legal union activities. The limitation to legal union activities was of importance to the University because, during the Spring 2022 semester, the GEO engaged in or attempted to engage in two (2) illegal union actions that also may have violated the student code and fall outside the authority of collective bargaining. The parties concluded negotiations by discussing English proficiency. The GEO believes their proposal should be the standard for employment and students, but they are not requiring their proposal be the standard for admitting students.        

The parties' next negotiation is scheduled for July 15.

June 14, 2022, Bargaining Session Recap
(5th Bargaining Session)

On June 14, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) and the University had their fifth (5th) negotiation session.  The parties met for approximately two (2) hours.   The session began with the GEO expressing concern with the lack of an economic counter proposal from the University.  The GEO stressed their desire for a comprehensive economic response due to the rising rate of inflation.   The University responded that it needs to have a full understanding of the thirty-six (36) pages of changes the GEO is seeking to the existing contract prior to presenting an economic response.  Next, the parties discussed ground rules for negotiations.  The focus of the discussion was related to the University’s proposal to limit the number of in-person participants to thirty (30) individuals on each committee.  The GEO is continuing to seek the ability to have over one hundred (100) participants in-person.  The University is insisting on a smaller number to create an environment more conducive to reaching a settlement.  The University has also agreed to allow for a hybrid option, as that would allow more than thirty (30) GEO members to witness the negotiation sessions.

The parties discussed three (3) topics in the negotiation session:  1) Oral English Proficiency of International Students, 2) Hours of Work, and 3) Paid Time for GEO Business.  The GEO sees the University’s current English proficiency requirements for instructors as outdated.  As a self-described “social justice” union, the GEO is seeking to broaden the list of exempted countries and introduce other methods by which graduate assistants are able to demonstrate English proficiency.  Despite numerous attempts by the University’s negotiating team to have the GEO clarify if the proposal intends to align the same English proficiency standards for admission and employment, the GEO has refused to answer whether it is the GEO’s intent to align those two standards.  Regarding Hours of Work, the GEO is seeking a maximum weekly work limit tied to the percentage of appointment (e.g., a 25% appointment has a maximum work limit of ten (10) hours).  If the University requires work in excess of the maximum work limit, the GEO is seeking that Assistants receive double time (2x) the hourly rate for all time worked in excess of the maximum work limit.  If the Assistant does not work during the week the assistant would still receive full compensation for the week.  The GEO recognized that this proposed compensation requirement is in excess of the compensation requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Also, the GEO is unaware of any other University that provides a similar benefit.  Lastly, the parties discussed the union’s proposal for paid time off for union activities.  The GEO is seeking a provision  that the University provide five (5) individuals a paid assistantship with tuition and fee waivers at 50% for 52 weeks to provide services for the GEO.  In years where the parties are negotiating a collective bargaining agreement, the University would provide an additional four (4) individuals a paid assistantship with tuition and fee waivers at 50% for the semesters the parties are in active negotiations.  Time spent working for the GEO would not count against any funding guarantees previously allocated to an individual.  The GEO states that similar agreements are in place with the Universities of Washington and Massachusetts.

The parties' next negotiation is scheduled for June 22nd.

May 23, 2022, Bargaining Session Recap
(4th Bargaining Session)

On May 23, 2022, the GEO and the University met for the fourth (4th) time via Zoom to negotiate a successor agreement.  The negotiation session lasted approximately three (3) hours.  The session began with the University presenting a new proposal for the parties’ negotiation ground rules.  The University modified its position to allow for an online component for in-person negotiations.  The University additionally sought a limit of thirty (30) GEO bargaining unit members for participation in the in-person component.  The University expects the GEO to respond to the latest ground rule proposal in the next bargaining session. 

The first portion of the negotiations dealt with the University asking specific questions related to the GEO’s proposals on appointments.  The questions were raised to determine the concerns the GEO has with the current appointment process.  The GEO has requested numerous changes to the appointment process including seeking additional compensation for late appointment letters, as well as a specific description of duties to be performed.  The primary concern the University has with the GEO’s proposal is the prohibition on the reassignment of assistants throughout the appointment term if operational needs require the adjustment of duties.  Additionally, it is unclear if the GEO is proposing the automatic renewal of appointments for the duration of the assistant’s time at the University.  Despite the numerous questions posed by the administration related to automatic renewal, the GEO did not provide clarification that would answer the University’s questions regarding automatic renewals.  The parties then moved on to discuss the union’s proposed modifications to the University’s Net Pay Calculator.  The GEO is proposing adding a detailed tutorial and instructions on how the Net Pay Calculator works.  The parties also discussed the GEO’s proposal on dismissals.  The University is concerned with the union’s proposed limit on dismissal decisions.  The GEO is seeking a minimum thirty (30) business days prior to action on any dismissal.  Unfortunately, there are instances where immediate dismissal is necessary, which makes the GEO’s proposal unpalatable.  The University and the GEO then discussed language related to English proficiency.  The GEO is seeking a single standard for English proficiency.  The University currently has two (2) standards for English proficiency: (1) standard for admission and (2) standard to serve in instructional roles.  Lastly, the GEO discussed their proposal on prohibiting unannounced classroom observations.  The IFT business representative explained that unannounced observations have been phased out throughout Illinois, and the GEO is seeking an end to this practice at the University.  

The session concluded with discussion of future negotiation dates.  The GEO did express a willingness to agree to the University’s goal to negotiate on a set schedule every two (2) weeks.  The parties scheduled the next session for Tuesday, June 7, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. via Zoom.  However, the GEO has subsequently requested to reschedule the session.

April 28, 2022, Bargaining Session Recap
(3rd Bargaining Session)

On April 28, 2022, the GEO and the University met for the third time via Zoom in the combined effort to negotiate a successor agreement.   The negotiation session lasted two (2) hours.  The session began with the GEO presenting a new proposal for the parties’ negotiation ground rules.  The primary issues separating the parties from reaching an agreement on the ground rules is the size and location of in-person bargaining sessions and the GEO’s continue desire to have an online component for in-person negotiations.  The GEO previously requested that an in-person negotiation room have enough space for up to 160 GEO bargaining unit members.   The University intends to respond to the latest ground rule proposal in the next bargaining session. 

The next portion of the negotiations dealt with the University asking specific questions related to the GEO’s proposal on the make-up of the bargaining unit.  The questions dealt with proposed changes to the scope of the bargaining unit.  The University stressed that changes to a bargaining unit’s make-up are permissive in nature and the University is not under any obligation to negotiate over the make-up of the bargaining unit.   One of the primary concerns the University has with the GEO’s proposal is the removal of the requirement that a graduate assistant or teaching assistant remain “in good standing.”     The parties then discussed the union’s significant modifications to the Nondiscrimination Statement.  The GEO proposed adding the following new protected statuses:  parental status, union affiliation or activities, political affiliation or beliefs, medical conditions, and political affiliation or beliefs, all of which extend beyond the federal and state requirements and current university policy for protected classes. Additionally, the parties discussed the University’s procedures in responding to claims of discrimination and harassment.    Next, the University asked a series of questions related to the GEO’s desire to remove the “good academic standing” requirement for assistantship appointments.  Then the University’s representatives stressed that this proposed modification does not align with university policy and is not in the University’s best interest.  

After a caucus, the GEO asked a couple of questions related to the University’s initial non-economic proposal.   The GEO also stressed the desire for the University to provide an economic proposal.  The University’s chief negotiator explained that an economic counterproposal would not be forthcoming in the next few sessions; because the University needs to have a full understanding of the GEO’s proposals in order to respond appropriately.   The GEO’s initial proposal is thirty-six (36) pages compared to the University’s seven (7) page proposal.   At the conclusion of this session, the parties have discussed a total of four (4) pages of the union’s proposal.

The session concluded with discussion of future negotiation dates.  The University reiterated its position to negotiate on a set schedule every two (2) weeks.  The GEO did not agree to that request. The parties did agree the next session will be Wednesday, May 25th, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. via Zoom.  

April 1, 2022, Bargaining Session Recap
(2nd Bargaining Session)

The Parties met for approximately two hours via Zoom. The Union began the session by presenting a proposal regarding ground rules, which appeared to be identical to its previous proposal. The Union also submitted an information request with multiple questions related to healthcare. The University presented its counter proposal on ground rules, after which the Union requested a caucus. After a caucus of approximately 20 minutes, the Union requested to table the ground rules discussion, yet continued to ask questions regarding the University’s rejection of the Union’s proposal for a hybrid model for in-person bargaining sessions. The Parties agreed that the next session would again be held via Zoom. The Union also asked clarifying questions regarding the University’s proposal that captioning used in Zoom sessions could only be used for the purposes of accessibility and could not be saved or copied to use for other purposes. The Union again requested a caucus, which lasted approximately 13 minutes.

Upon returning from caucus, the University presented its initial proposals, which included a comprehensive non-economic proposal. Changes proposed by the University included the following: changing references to “Academic Human Resources” to “Illinois Human Resources” and references to the ”Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access” to the “Office for Access and Equity”; incorporating previous side letters regarding remedies for late appointment letters and union orientation into the contract; removing references to Fair Share from the contract, in accordance with the Janus v. AFSCME decision; and for grievances to be submitted directly to the Senior Director of Labor and Employee Relations – Illinois Human Resources, rather than to the Associate Provost for Human Resources (now the Senior Associate Chancellor for Human Resources).

After the University presented its proposal, the Union questioned why the University did not make an economic proposal, and the University responded that it proposed the changes it wanted to see, as the Union had done in the previous session. The Union requested a third caucus, which lasted approximately 26 minutes. Following the caucus, the Union continued to question why the University did not provide what the Union believed to be a comprehensive proposal, since it did not include articles that would remain status quo. The University again explained that it put forth the changes it wanted to see and noted that it had a lot of questions regarding the Union’s initial proposals. The University attempted to ask those questions, but the Union continued to request a “full proposal,” including status quo language. The University explained that it had presented its proposal and was bargaining in good faith, per the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. The Union requested another caucus, and the University pointed out that there were only 15 minutes left in the session, and that the Union’s caucuses had been lasting longer than that. The Parties discussed dates for the next meeting. The University requested to meet every two weeks and to schedule the next few sessions, but the Union was not prepared to do so. The Parties agreed to meet on the afternoon of April 28 for their third session.

March 7, 2022, Bargaining Session Recap
(1st Bargaining Session)

The parties met for approximately four hours via Zoom, with the Union proposing ground rules to start the session. The University presented its counter proposal regarding ground rules, which was then countered by the Union. The University proposed, in the interest of time, that the Union continue with its presentation of its full contract proposal, and the University will respond to the Union’s counter proposal in the next bargaining session. Following a pause for introductions of the University’s bargaining team, the Union presented its full proposal. The Union proposed numerous significant changes to the contract including, among other items, additions to the non-discrimination clause, grievance procedure for end of semester non-reappointments, removal of the good academic standing requirement, mandatory in-person training, limits on oral English proficiency, maximum weekly work caps, University paid GEO employees, access to physical and digital bulletin boards, University provided internet access and personal protective equipment, worker choice on remote work, intellectual property of curricula and course work created or developed by graduate workers, significant wage increases, no required fees, changes to tuition waivers, full coverage of student and dependent health, dental, and vision insurance, childcare subsidies and automatic enrollment in University childcare facilities, increased vacation days and parental leave, restrictions on police entering graduate workspaces and right to request non-police civilian responders, and Student Code protection related to union activity and union representation on OSCR Graduate Student Conduct subcommittee. To end the session, the parties discussed scheduling the next session and agreed to meet for two hours on the afternoon of April 1.


Contact Information

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

Name Title Email Phone
Robb Craddock Senior Director rcrad01s@illinois.edu (217) 333-3105