News Local/State

GEO Co-President On New Contract: ‘We Got What We Wanted’

Posters and signs with strike slogans written on them. Signs are part of the GEO strike on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus.

Graduate workers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus leave picket signs on the ground following a rally to draw attention to their strike. The strikers are part of the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO). Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Public Media

The Graduate Employees' Organization - or GEO - voted Thursday and Friday on a new five-year contract with the University of Illinois. GEO co-president Gus Wood said the new contract is an even better deal than what the union initially set out to get.

"We weren’t going to stop striking until we got what we wanted," Wood said. "I’m extremely excited about what this contract means for this campus.”

The GEO announced late Friday that 98 percent of voting members voted to approve the new contract. The ratification vote officially ends the 12-day strike, which the GEO says is the longest strike in its 16-year history.

Wood says that the GEO will spend the days ahead reaching out to members to ensure they understand the provisions of the new contract.

The new contract has not yet been made available in full, but the GEO shared information on Twitter and in a statement online about what the agreement entails.

Tuition Waivers

The new contract includes protections for  graduate tuition waivers, which was the most contentious debate of the labor dispute between the GEO and the university. The GEO wanted guaranteed tuition waivers for all members for the life of the contract. The university wanted more flexibility in awarding future waivers.

Here's what the GEO told WILL about the tuition waiver provision of the contract:

"Tuition waivers will be guaranteed to teaching and graduate assistants once they are enrolled in a program. When in that program, they will be governed by the tuition waiver policy in effect at the time of their enrollment (so long as they're in good academic standing and make progress toward graduation)-- even if later modifications to the program should occur."

But Bruce Kovanen, a lead negotiator for the GEO, told the News-Gazette that the university did get some concessions in this area. He said that the university will have some flexibility in creating new programs and that students in so-called self-supporting programs will "most likely have to seek different kinds of employment."


The GEO had sought a "modest" raise of about $500 for its lowest-paid members, which was about a seven percent increase. 

The GEO says minimum pay for graduate teaching assistants and other workers will increase by 4.5 percent in the first year, and 2.5 percent in each of the next two years. Then, wages will be up for renegotiation for the final two years of the contract.

Health Insurance

Per the GEO, the university will now pay 87 percent of graduate workers' health insurance premiums. That's an increase from the current 80 percent. In addition, the university will now pay 25 percent of the premium for one dependent. The university had previously not paid any health insurance costs for dependents.

Other Provisions

  • The U of I has agreed to provide one month notice for a job appointment, and if they fail to do so, the affected grad employee can file a claim for fifty dollars.
  • Supervisors must attempt to accommodate workers who have to miss time due to visa or immigration issues.
  • Ethnicity, visa/immigration status, gender expression, arrest record status be added as "protected categories."
  • Graduate workers will have the ability to grieve microaggressions as discrimination or harassment.
  • More flexible parental leave will be provided.

The bargaining team also created a plan for how to make up hours lost due to striking. Graduate workers should contact supervisors to make arrangements.

However, if the missed work was scabbed, or performed by someone who worked during the strike, "you may not be able to make up lost hours," GEO said in a statement. "Make up hours must be completed before March 30, 2018."

In a statement, University of Illinois administrators said the agreement was arrived upon after an "extremely productive and collaborative all-night negotiation session" on Wednesday:

While there have been differences at the bargaining table throughout this process, we firmly believe that the first and shared goal of everyone involved in these negotiations was to ensure continued excellence here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The contributions of our graduate employees at Illinois are essential to every aspect of the educational and scholarly missions of one of the world’s best public research universities. We appreciate their sustained effort and commitment during this week’s bargaining sessions that led to today’s agreement.

This tentative agreement finds common ground built on those goals to ensure graduate employees at Illinois will have the financial and personal security to focus fully on the academic pursuits and aspirations that brought them here. And this agreement also guarantees our faculty the flexibility to ensure the future quality and competitiveness of our academic programs in the rapidly shifting landscape of global higher education.

In a tweet, the GEO shared their feelings regarding the outcome of the strike:

It reads: "Did we get everything we want? No. Are there areas of our contract we need to strengthen? Yes. Will we continue to organize our workplace, empower members, and keep the fight for #EducationForAll alive? You better believe it."

That tweet ends up the statement: "La lucha continúa." Translated from Spanish: "The fight continues."

Updated on Sunday, March 11, 2018 at 5 p.m.