News Local/State

UIUC Graduate Employee Union Plans To Strike

The Hallene Gateway on the University of Illinois Urbana campus.

The Hallene Gateway on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. David Mercer/Illinois Public Media

The graduate student employee union at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign announced Thursday that they plan to strike come Feb. 26.

The Graduate Employee Organization, or GEO, says the university administration refuses to bargain with the union over tuition waivers. Co-president of the GEO, Gus Wood, says that’s the biggest sticking point in negotiations right now. The GEO filed a notice of intent to strike last week following 10 months of negotiations with the university.

The tuition waivers are crucial for graduate workers, Wood says, because “nobody can afford to go here without a tuition waiver.” The GEO wants garaunteed tutition waivers for its members. Wood describes the university’s position on the waivers as a “complete slap in the face to all grad employees.”

The university states on its Human Resources website that the administration wants the ability to “manage the tuition waiver program to meet its operational and budgetary needs in accordance with its management rights.”

In a statement issued Thursday, the administration says “this is not a loss for graduate student employees.” The university says it’s committed to supporting “competitive assistantship opportunities” but against putting its academic programs at risk.

Wood says a lack of tuition waivers will ultimately harm the university’s graduate program because many students decide where to enroll based on whether or not they’ll have to pay for tuition. He says grad workers cannot afford to pay tuition on the wages they receive from the university.

He says he’s also worried the university may move to declare any strike over tuition waivers illegal. Wood says striking on those grounds is legal because tuition waivers are part of a grad worker’s compensation package.

The GEO includes roughly 2,700 members. The last time the union went out on strike was in 2009.