Graduate Workers File Paperwork for Intent to Strike
By Jeff Bossert
Members of the graduate student employee union at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus have voted to file an Intent-to-Strike motion.
The Graduate Employees Organization, which is in the middle of contract negotiations with the U of I, said the vote Thursday night was overwhelmingly in favor of the action. The vote does not authorize a strike, but rather gives the option to vote on one later.
In a membership meeting Thursday night, nearly 200 members of the Graduate Employees Organization backed filing Intent-to-Strike paperwork with the Illinois Educational Relations Board.
The GEO also announced the U of I has agreed to a request for a federal mediator, something U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler previously said wasn’t necessary. GEO spokeswoman Stephanie Seawell said the U of I’s decision expedites the process.
“Once we get a mediator in, we really hope that next vote won’t become necessary," she said. "We’ll be able to work with the mediator, and get some of these issues hammered out at the bargaining table. That’s still what we want to do. But we want to make sure that we have all the options on the table, so that’s why we’re doing this now, so that we can start this process if it should become necessary down the road.”
"Tuition waivers are essential for graduate student employees on this campus," added teaching assistant Kristen Ehrenberger in a press release issued by the GEO Thursday night. "I went out on strike in 2009, and I came here tonight because I want the administration to know that we take this issue seriously and expect the university to negotiate tuition waivers."
Seawell said contract talks with the U of I have lagged on issues like wages, health care… and tuition waivers, an issue that led to a two-day strike in 2009. Seawell said the two sides met had a mediator through most of the negotiations that year, and that is when she said they made the most progress.
In a statement, university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said most major issues have already been resolved, and discussions were fruitful on remaining issues during a bargaining session on Thursday.
"Union members have the right to take this action," Kaler said. "We had another bargaining session yesterday. It was low-key, and discussions on the remaining issues were fruitful, even though we didn’t reach agreement on any of them. Given that most issues have been resolved, and the few remaining ones are significant...we let the GEO know that we are willing to enter mediation."
The two sides have met 19 times since April. The previous contract expired Aug. 16.