Illinois Public Media News
Teaching and graduate assistants return to work Wednesday on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. The Graduate Employees Organization has ended its strike, after reaching a tentative agreement with the administration on a new three-year contract.
The official decision to suspend the strike was made by the GEO's strike committee Tuesday night, following a membership meeting in which members unanimously endorsed the tentative contract and the suspension of their two-day walkout.
Grad student workers had struck over tuition waivers --- and GEO spokesman Rich Potter says the university is promising in a side letter to the new contract, that any changes to the current tuition waiver policy will be subject to negotiation with the union. Potter says the language is a compromise, since the union had wanted the administration to renounce any discussion of a change in the waiver policy altogether.
A U of I news release says that "during the term of the three-year agreement, graduate assistant and teaching assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced while they hold qualifying assistantships, are in good academic standing, and are making proper progres toward graduation in the program in which they began."
GEO member and mathematics teaching assistant Dan Lior says tuition waivers had been the most important issue for him. And he says he's pleased that the union's efforts created progress on the issue.
"For me personally, the difference is that the union demonstrated the ability of the everyday person to make changes that matter", says Lior. "It's a shame that it had to come to a strike, but we still do have the power to influence the way things are run."
The tentative agreement also includes a ten percent raise over three years for the minimum graduate worker salary --- union spokesman Potter says that's an improvement, but still short of the Living Wage that the union had sought for all graduate employees. He says the GEO will continue to push for a Living Wage for all grad employees when the next contract is negotiated. The new agreement also includes two additional weeks of unpaid parental leave and increases to the university's contribution to health care premiums (reaching 75% in the third year of the agreement).
"I think we're very happy to reach agreement", said Urbana campus administration spokesperson Robin Kaler. "We absolutely value the work that our graduate assistants do, and we're very excited to move forward."
GEO spokesman Rich Potter says they hope to schedule a ratification vote for this week.The agreement would then go the U of I Board of Trustees for their vote. If approved by both sides, the contract would be retroactive to the start of the semester.
The strike by University of Illinois graduate student employees may be winding down.
Their negotiating team has reached a tentative agreement with the U of I over language in their contract regarding tuition waiver security.
The university says the tentative agreement will guarantee that grad assistants and teaching assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced as long as they're in good standing, hold their assistantships and are making reasonable progress toward graduation.
The contract offer also includes items the two sides agreed on last Saturday, including higher stipends, more subsidies for health insurance and parental accommodation periods after the birth or adoption of a child. That disagreement led GEO members to walk out.
At a rally this afternoon on the U of I quad, spokesman Peter Campbell said members meeting tonight at the Wesley United Methodist Church will determine whether the strike will be suspended - he expects a ratification vote in the next few days.
A new committee to advise the Champaign school district on equity issues is now in place. The Unit Four School Board approved members for the Education Equity Excellence --- or Triple E Committee --- during a special meeting Monday night. And they named ten community members to serve on the panel, including notable local African-Americans such as local N-double-A-C-P President Jerome Chambers and former school board member Nathaniel White.
But the new committee is supposed to study equity issues for all Unit Four residents ... so its members also include white, Asian-American and Latino residents. In the last category, bilingual education teacher Lily Jimenez says she hopes the committee can be a voice for families --- especially Latino Families.
"I would love there to be, kind of like an open forum for Latino families", said Jimenez, "to just come and share their experiences with the district. You know, things that they like, things they would like to see different. And then just start a dialog, to see what things the district is doing well, and what things they could do better."
School Board member Susan Grey says that after years under the Consent Decree, she welcomes the feedback from community members.
"I like having a measure of accountability from our own community", says Grey. "Not court oversight, but community oversight".
Other members of the Triple-E Committee will represent the Unit Four administration, teachers union and school board.
School Board member Susan Grey says the board must meet at least twice a semester, but can meet more frequently. She says it can also recruit more members for subcommittees focusing on specific topics. Grey expects the Triple-E Committee to hold its first one oro two meetings before the year is out.
The Ten Community Members Named to the Unit Four EEE Committee:
Virginia "Ginny" B. Holder --- attorney
Lily Jimenez --- bilingual teacher
Annette McDonald Jones --- Dir. of Trust Services, U of I Foundation
Dr. Christina N. Medrano ---surgeon
Karl Radnitzer - education professor, Milliken University
Melodye Benson Rosales -- commercial and educational publishing
Jamar Brown --- member, Champaign Human Relations Committee
Rev. Jerome C. Chambers - President, Champaign County Chapter of the NAACP
Nancy Hoetker --- President, Champaign PTA Council
Nathaniel C. Banks -- former Unit Four School Board member
A federal judge whittled down the list of defendants for Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial, dropping Springfield power broker William Cellini and leaving only the former governor and his brother.
And Michael Ettinger, an attorney for Blagojevich's brother, said Monday he will ask the judge within weeks to severe his client from the trial as well.
Judge James Zagel didn't drop charges against Cellini. Prosecutors are still free to bring him to trial after they finish with Blagojevich.
Meanwhile, Zagel says he's hoping to keep the June 3 trial date but left the door open for a brief delay requested by Blagojevich's lawyers.
Family members of Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott say they appreciate the outpouring of support they've received in the wake of his death.
The family issued a statement through Chicago Public Schools on Monday after Scott's body was pulled from the Chicago River on Monday.
An autopsy and investigation into the death are under way. Police say officers were called to the city's River North neighborhood at about 3:15 a.m., where they found his body in the water.
The Scott family's statement says arrangements for a public memorial service will be announced soon.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Rev. Jesse Jackson are among the leaders expressing shock over Scott's death.
Picket lines sprung up around four University of Illinois buildings this morning.
Several hundred Graduate Employees Organization members and supporters picked up picket signs and walked in circles near the entrances of the English and Foreign Languages buildings as well as Davenport and Gregory halls. They wore ponchos or carried umbrellas against today's cold rain.
After negotiations Saturday resolved every issue but one, Graduate Employees Organization leaders opted to call a strike beginning today. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says currently most teaching or research assistants on the Urbana campus have all or part of their grad school tuition waived as part of their compensation for their work. But Campbell claims the U of I won't put it in writing that those waivers will go on.
"The purpose of a university -- especially a public land-grant university -- it to provide open, accessible and high-quality education, and tuition waivers are an important part of that," Campbell said. "It wouldn't cost the administration anything to provide a contractual guarantee of protection for tuition waivers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler contends that the GEO didn't bring up the guarantee demand until the night of the talks. "The University offered Saturday night that if the Board of Trustees would ever want to change the general rules that affect tuition waivers, we would bargain with the GEO on that."
Kaler says faculty have been asked to make arrangements to hold classes in different locations or make alternate assignments for students during the strike. Campbell says faculty were alerted about picket sites before the strike, and many switched locations. U of I police say the strike has been uneventful so far, aside from a few complaints about excessive noise on the Quad.
Governor Pat Quinn says turning a mostly vacant prison in northwestern Illinois into a federal lockup is a "once in a lifetime opportunity." But concerns are being raised about the possibility of housing terrorists within the state's borders.
Federal inspectors were scheduled to be at the Thomson Correctional Center near the Quad Cities today. They're considering using it to house, among others, Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Governor Pat Quinn is on board. "We have, I believe, 345 convicted terrorists incarcerated across America," the Governor said. "And I believe the people of Illinois and the men and women who live here are more than capable of handling any type of assignment when it comes to incarcerating terrorists."
For Quinn, who is up for election, the proposal carries risk and reward. It's an opportunity to bring up to an estimated 3,000 jobs to the depressed area.
The prison has sat mostly vacant since it was built about 8 years ago, and the state lacks the money to fully open it. But some Republicans have been quick to criticize the plan. Quinn and fellow Democrat -- US Senator Dick Durbin -- spent Sunday trying to alleviate security fears, saying the super maximum prison at Thomson is considered a state of the art facility.
Picket lines are expected in front of an unknown number of University of Illinois Urbana campus buildings Monday morning.
After negotiations Saturday resolved every issue but one, Graduate Employees Organization leaders opted to call a strike beginning Monday. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says currently most teaching or research assistants on the Urbana campus have all or part of their grad school tuition waived as part of their compensation for their work. But Campbell claims the U of I won't put it in writing that those waivers will go on.
"The purpose of a university --- especially a public land-grant universities is to provide open and accessible and high quality education, and I think tuition waivers are an important part of that", said Campbell. "And again, it wouldn't cost the administration anything to provide a contractual guarantee, protection for tuition waivers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler contends that the GEO didn't bring up the guarantee demand until the night of the talks.
"The university offered Saturday night that if the university board of trustees would ever want to change the general rules that affect tuition waivers, we would bargain with the GEO on that", said Kaler.
Kaler says faculty have been asked to make arrangements to hold classes in different locations or make alternate assignments for students during the strike. Campbell says faculty have been told of picket sites, but he wouldn't say where strikers would be stationed for the picketing, scheduled to begin at 8 AM Monday morning.
The former superintendent of a western Indiana school district has been arrested on forgery, theft and perjury charges after a state audit found he misused nearly $36,000.
Indiana State Police arrested Nathan Evans on Friday, three days after Fountain County prosecutors filed a total of 17 felony charges against the former top administrator of the Covington Community School Corp.
Evans headed the district for eight years before resigning in February, when authorities began investigating discrepancies in school accounts.
Chief deputy prosecutor Mark McGrady says Evans' actions included charging the purchase of a washer and dryer to the district but putting them in his home.
Evans was released on bond pending an initial court appearance Dec. 15. A Covington-area telephone listing for Evans could not be located.
Prosecutors asked a federal judge Friday to drop millionaire power broker William Cellini from Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial. Meanwhile, the former governor asked that the trial scheduled for June be postponed for months.
U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel is likely to grant the motion, which would allow for a separate trial but not dismiss any charges, because Cellini's lawyers have been seeking the same thing.
Cellini is a Springfield lobbyist-businessman and has been viewed for decades as one of the most influential behind-the-scenes men in Illinois politics. He is charged with attempting to extort a payoff or hefty contribution for the Blagojevich campaign from a Hollywood producer whose money management firm did business with the state.
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