Collective Action Will Get Us A Contract


We hit a milestone today. 450 days without a contract. Even longer since we started bargaining. GAU requested to begin bargaining in March 2010 and we had our first bargaining session with the administration’s team in April 2010. We managed to make some progress on minor issues but by October 2010, negotiations were mostly stalled. In March 2011, a federal mediator came in for two sessions before (as the mediator told us), the administration’s team had said there was nothing else to talk about. After we wrote a letter that appeared in the Southern, within a day a representative of the Board’s team had reached out to us to say “Oh, the mediator was wrong! We never meant to cut off negotiations!” and we went back to mostly unproductive sessions. Over the summer, we managed to clear out most of the minor issues we had on the table, leaving us with two major issues left: fees and health care.

When we conducted our multiple surveys, one-on-one conversations, and small focus groups, fees were the number one concern of graduate assistants on campus. Of our annual salary, the average PhD student working 20 hours a week (which is, of course, on the higher end of the stipend pay scale) pays 20 percent of their salary back to the university in fees. For many people, that amounts to two months of pay. GAs would need approximately a 12 percent stipend increase in a four-year contract to break even with the fees at the current level and this would not help us with future fees.

GAU proposed a fee freeze to try to minimize the damage fees are doing to the meager stipend we receive. The university administration said no and gave no alternate solution. We proposed a higher stipend to reduce the deterioration of our stipends. The university countered with an offer: the Board allocates raises at the rate of non-union employees. This would take wages completely out of our hands and still does not address the issue of fees. At our last bargaining session (September 15, 2011), the university’s bargaining team told us they had an economic offer which they even admitted we wouldn’t like. While we have yet to see that offer, I believe their team will be right: any economic package that does not address where 20% of our stipend goes is one that is not good enough.

Our other issue, health care, has reached even more ridiculous heights. What do you call you a health plan that offers no coverage for vision, dental, partners/dependents, no prescription drug coverage, no coverage for pre-existing conditions for a year (industry standard in the private sector is only six months, by the way), has a $1000 maximum-out-of-pocket for a low wage population, only covers 85% of your expenses, which you cannot completely opt-out of even if you have access to a better plan, is not comparable with similar plans accross the state, and costs you a miminum of $430 annually? Here at SIUC, we call it our student health care plan.

The DE actually has a fairly good article, Students speak out about university insurance policy, which focuses on that lack of coverage. What you may not realize is that the university has total control over that health care plan. They can change it any time — but don’t.

Worse, we asked for information from the university’s team about health care in June. We don’t have that information (and at our bargaining session last week we were told they didn’t even have a guess on when it might be available) — but at least one of the figures we asked for showed up in that article.

There’s also a nicely written plea in the DE from an undergraduate student to the faculty: Think of the students before a strike. This is, of course, hard to read. On one hand, as a student I understand completely what this letter means. On the other, it feels like the administration has forced us so our backs are to the wall and other collective actions we have done have produced no movement. That’s what the vote will hopefully do; just because we vote to authorize a strike doesn’t mean we may actually go on strike. I hope that the message we send by voting yes is more than enough to produce the movement and productivity, overcome the walls of “no” and roadblocks of delays, and net us a fair contract.

Finally (because I’ve rambled enough), ACsE has announced their vote as well: Tuesday September 27, 11:30-1, 4-5:30, Student Center Ballroom A: Association of Civil Service Employees Vote. We’ll also be having informational tabling in the student center (by the escalators), from 10-2 today, Monday, and Tuesday. If you have questions, concerns, comments — stop by and talk to us!

Upcoming Events:
Friday September 23, 10-2: Informational Tabling in the Student Center
Monday September 26, 10-2: Informational Tabling in the Student Center
Tuesday September 27, 10-2: Informational Tabling in the Student Center
Tuesday September 27, 11:30-1, 4-5:30, Student Center Ballroom A: Association of Civil Service Employees Vote
Wednesday September 28: Faculty Association Strike Authorization Vote
Friday September 30: GA United Strike Authorization Vote
Wednesday October 5, 5pm: Informational Meeting for Students About Striking


Save the Date, and More


A few things today:

GAU has issued our third Strike Watch with some new information about our last bargaining session — and health care. One of our bargaining goals is to get a commitment from the university to follow the guidelines of the new Patient Affordable Health Care Act. The change that would have the most effect at SIUC would be the removal of the year wait on preexisting conditions. This removal would help thousands of students with everyday, common problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma, who now cannot receive the medical care they need to treat those problems. According to information given to us at bargaining, the cost in student fees to implement this change? Ten dollars. Whatever their objection to making this change, “keeping student costs down” is not the real reason.

45K Verizon workers strike after labor talks [The Southern]
Verizon works go on strike — to keep what they have. Ironic, of course, are some of the comments workers are quoted as making in the article: wanting worker concessions while the company has record profits, executive salaries are in the millions, and so forth. Scale down the numbers a little and it starts to sound awfully familiar…

Finally, don’t forget to save the date! The Labor Coalition is inviting you to join us for a movie and a discussion this Sunday, August 14th at 2pm in the Varsity Theater. We’ll be showing the movie Inside Job, the award-winning documentary exposes the inner workings of the principles during the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent economic meltdown. Refreshments will be provided and family is welcome.

What Is A Union?


A lot of things going on today; I almost don’t know where to start (other than boggling a little at 400 days)! I suppose I’ll start internal and work my way out.

One of the new changes at SIUC that has students a little riled seems to be the installment plan to pay for tuition and fees. The plan includes a $30 processing fee and some of the initial negative reaction seemed to be over confusion whether this program was mandatory or not (it’s not). What the program does is “Nelnet, an outside corporation, will pay the full amount (essentially giving the student a short term loan) that must be repaid in four months. This means the university gets their money, and if a student defaults, the outside corporation will operate as a debt collection agency to get their money back from the student. The university is also now charging a 1.5% interest/service fee on tuition/fees each month it is unpaid” (from Carl Bloom, GPSC President) — unless you are enrolled in the program.

So, despite the “voluntary” nature of the payment plan, SIUC is doing its best to make the installment option the best (and only) financially feasible option.

Also speaking of students and student debt, Students to feel pinch in debt deal [CNN]. Beginning July 1, 2012, there will be no more subsidized loans for graduate students (making me wish I’d elected to finish in three years instead of four). About the only good thing about this change is the money gained by this change will be going to Pell Grants, so even though they’re basically taking money from graduate students to pay for undergraduate education (only a small number of teacher certification/credentialing programs and eligible for Pell Grants at the graduate level), the money is at least staying in education and not going to pay for something else entirely.

But as an Inside Higher Ed report shows, the U.S. is number one for cost internationally. This, combined with the lack of good financial aid and scholarships, makes it hard to compete in the international arena for students.

Perhaps the lack of decent financial aid is because some colleges and universities are burdened by the need to fill “golden parachutes” for administration? Another report on Inside Higher Ed looks at the “golden parachute” phenomenon, where administrative appointments have (some may say overly) generous leaving packages:

including large salaries, extended time off, light workloads, and the right to tenure. While the necessity of these deals is the major question at a lot of institutions, they also raise philosophical concerns, such as why a traditional faculty position — often viewed as a fairly well-paying and flexible job by the public — just isn’t good enough for former administrators.

Speaking of benefits, Appellate court upholds ruling on new state employee health contracts [State Journal-Register]:

The 4th District Appellate Court decision means the temporary three-month contracts worked out after Sangamon County Associate Judge Brian Otwell’s ruling won’t be replaced — at least for now — by the original long-term contracts awarded by the state this spring.

You can also read The Southern’s take on the court decision.

And finally, there’s a very nice letter to the editor in the Southern today which calls out the July 17th editorial. I’m still waiting to see my letter to the editor about this editorial from the 27th. I think if I don’t see it show up soon (especially since the Southern called to verify I wrote it over a week ago), I may just go ahead and post it here. Today’s letter, though, says:

What do these union brothers and sisters want?

Among other things, they want their collective bargaining rights fully recognized and contracts honored. They want the administration to respect tenure – in a factory and other work places it’s called seniority. And they want the administration to comply with the law regarding health care for all employees.

Sounds like the rest of us, wanting to do our jobs under fair working conditions and maybe make a decent living in the process.

That’s exactly right. We want fair work places that compensate quality employees for their good work, where collective bargaining and employee voice is honored. And right now — we want settled contracts.

The Board of Trustees Hears Our Message

Today’s showing at the Board of Trustees meeting was very successful! Fifty-five people showed up to the Board meeting and those of us wearing black far outnumbered everyone else! During the public comment portion of the BOT meeting, we had two speakers:

Kristi Brownfield, on behalf of Graduate Assistants United, delivered a statement urging the Board to make the public commitment to improve student health care by agreeing to follow the guidelines set out in the new Patient Affordable Health Care Act. You can read a text version of her remarks here:

GAU Health Care BOT Statement 07-14-2011 [PDF]

After Kristi was finished, William Stodden, a member of GAU, came to the podium to deliver our message about bargaining. He delivered the statement on behalf of the presidents of the four IEA-NEA unions on campus, the Association of Civil Service Employees, the Faculty Association, Graduate Assistants United, and the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association. The letter asks the Board of Trustees to urge the teams bargaining on their behalf to come to the table and settle contracts. The 3400 members of those four unions have been working without a contract for 379 days as of July 14, 2011. You can read a text version of his comments here:

Union Presidents’ Letter to the Board of Trustees 07-14-2011 [PDF]

We also have video of Stodden delivering the statement available here on Youtube (via shaky camera phone, so I apologize for the quality!).

News coverage:
Union members protest to SIU board [The Southern]
Unions protest at BOT meeting [The Southern]
Two vote no on SIUC payroll increase [The Southern]
“379″ Unions protest at SIU board meeting [Illinois Education Association]
SIU Trustees Questions New Hires and Pay Raises for SIUC [WSIU]
Unions stand out at Board of Trustees meeting [Daily Egyptian]

379 Days Without A Contract

Union Members Holding the Contract Count

Union Members Filling the Seats

Union Members Filling the Seats







Pictures taken by David Vitoff during the meeting:

Cheng's Eye View of the BOT Meeting 07-14-2011

Cheng's Eye View of the BOT Meeting 07-14-2011

William Stodden Delivering the Letter to the BOT 07-14-2011

William Stodden Delivering the Letter to the BOT 07-14-2011

Members Remain Resolute in Front of the BOT 07-11-2011

Members Remain Resolute in Front of the BOT 07-11-2011

Kristi Brownfield Delivers GAU's Statement Regarding the Current Inadequate Student Health Care 07-11-2011

Kristi Brownfield Delivers GAU's Statement Regarding the Current Inadequate Student Health Care 07-11-2011

Labor Coalition Members Give a Standing Ovation After William Stodden Presents Letter 07-11-2011

Labor Coalition Members Give a Standing Ovation After William Stodden Presents Letter 07-11-2011

Save the Date / Call for Health Care Experiences

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend!

Two items of interest today:

Labor Film Series Flier

Labor Film Series Flier

The four IEA unions are sponsoring a labor film series held at the Varsity Center for the Performing Arts. Join us for movies and discussion on:

Sunday July 17, 2pm: Bread and Roses, based on the fight of janitorial workers (SEIU) in L.A. for better working conditions and the right to unionize
Sunday August 14, 2pm: Inside Job, the award-winning documentary exposes the inner workings of the principles during the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent economic meltdown
Sunday September 18, 2pm: Struggles in Steel: The Fight for Equal Opportunity, over 70 African-American steel workers speak about their struggles for fair treatment during both their 125-year industry as well as after shutdown

Admission is free and family is welcome!

Secondly, GAU is asking for health care experiences of graduate assistants. If you have, or know someone who has, experience with the Student Health Center, local hospitals, and other health care providers, please send them our way!

Morning Conversations with Rita Cheng

A little late, but on Tuesday, Chancellor Rita Cheng sat down with WSIU’s Jennifer Fuller for a morning conversation. You can listen to the podcast here. Some of the highlights:

  • Discussions of a “structural deficit”: which includes a “2.5 to 5% reduction across campus” to “rightsize the budget”; she also said publicly this should be done without furloughs or layoffs
  • Health care: she is “hopeful” the state-wide health care change can be resolved “quickly”; the university can’t change the student health care plan because GAs “are not considered employees” (this is true, as part of a state law, and not what GAU is asking for anyway)
  • Negotiations: her reaction to the filing of ULPs

    It’s definitely an enlightening discussion and in a lot of ways, at least from my experiences within GAU and our own fight, she seems misinformed about the real issues at stake for the unions — fairness, keeping quality employees, having a voice in our workplace, finding the best ways to support and help the students of SIUC. Dave Johnson, at Deo volente, also has a good write-up of her discussion.