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UIC, graduate employees union sign three-year contract

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Gina Gemmel and Charles Moss of GEO sign the contract
GEO representatives Gina Gemmel, Charles Moss and Phillip Wesolek sign the contract as Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares and Tom Riley, director of labor and employee relations, look on.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

UIC administrators and Graduate Employees Organization members celebrated with cake and sparkling fruit juice Monday after officially signing a new contract that provides an increase in stipends and university contributions to health insurance.

After 21 negotiating sessions over the past year, GEO members unanimously voted to approve the contract last week.

The contract is effective from Aug. 16, 2009, when the previous contract expired, through Aug. 15, 2012.

The new agreement includes a 2 percent increase to the minimum graduate assistant stipends during last two years of the contract, and nearly doubles the university’s contribution to student health insurance.

The contract also makes a commitment for UIC and GEO leaders to meet at least once a year to discuss costs, said Tom Riley, director of labor and employee relations.

“Overall, the conduct at the bargaining table was very respectful and productive,” Riley said.

“We were glad that in the midst of the massive state budget crisis, we were able to increase the minimum stipends and health insurance contributions to be able to continue recruiting the best possible graduate assistants.

“And we agreed to continue discussions with the union on important issues to assistants such as differentials and costs.”

Members of GEO, a union that represents more than 1,400 graduate and teaching assistants out of about 3,500 on campus, approved the contract in a vote April 12-13, said Gina Gemmel, GEO communications committee chair and a doctoral student in English.

“We are very happy that the contract has been ratified so we can begin organizing people to take part in our tuition differential sessions that the university agreed to in our contract,” she said.

Some graduate students pay a tuition differential, an additional charge that varies according to the program, for costs not covered by base tuition and state funding. Most graduate programs don’t have differentials, Riley said, but those that do ranged from about $400 to $4,000 this year.

Negotiations between UIC and GEO have been ongoing since April 2009. Federal mediators became involved in talks in March at the request of UIC administrators and the GEO.

“We extend our thanks to everyone who worked very hard over the past year to negotiate this contract,” Provost R. Michael Tanner and John Loya, vice chancellor for human resources, wrote in an April 14 e-mail to campus.

“We greatly value our fine graduate students and their many contributions to UIC’s teaching, research, clinical care and public service missions. In times of great challenge, we look forward to working with all the members of our community to achieve our common goals.”

During negotiating sessions, GEO and university negotiators discussed union proposals to change nearly half of the 27 articles that made up the original contract, Riley said.

“Sincere hard work and respect at the bargaining table certainly helped us get down to what the critical issues were and how we could solve them,” he said.


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