After a nearly two-week-long strike, graduate student workers at the University of Illinois at Urbana -Champaign ratified a new contract on March 9 with 98 percent of the members approving the deal.
The agreement, according to Inside Higher Ed, “includes several key provisions that stalled negotiations prior to the strike – perhaps most significantly, guaranteed tuition waivers for teaching and graduate assistants enrolled and in good standing. The university previously wanted to reserve the right to determine and modify tuition waiver designations.”
It continued, “The new agreement also includes a $50 payment for teaching assistants who get their appointment letters late and wage increases for the first three years of the five-year contract: 4.5 percent in the first year and 2 percent in each of the second and third years.”
“Because of the dedication of the members in this union we have a contract,” said Gus Wood, co-president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. “Countless hours of organizing made this happen. We held the lines, we stayed positive and we remained hopeful that we’d get the contract we deserve. I thank all of the GEO members and allies for their support through what is now the longest strike in University of Illinois history.”
According to reports, the union had several strike captains and coordinators throughout the work stoppage, and at one point occupied administrative offices overnight.
A FEDERAL ISSUE
The university’s stance on taking more control of tuition waivers drew particular ire from graduate student workers. Late last year, graduate students and higher education advocates across the country had protested a congressional proposal to make tuition waivers a form of taxable income, potentially quadrupling the tax burden on graduate students. That provision, however, was not included in the final federal tax overhaul bill signed by President Donald Trump.
Unlike in New York, strikes by public-sector workers in Illinois are not illegal.
“Going on strike is never an easy decision and we know that GEO had exhausted every possible avenue before taking that step,” said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.