Striking graduate assistants reach tentative deal with U. of I. administrators

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Supporters of the University of Illinois Graduate Employees Organization rally and march to implore members of the UIC board for a conversation about the ongoing GEO strike, Tuesday, March 6th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Ten days into their labor strike, unionized graduate teaching assistants at the University of Illinois have reached a tentative agreement with administrators on a new contract.

The bargaining team for the Graduate Employees Organization signed off on a deal with university officials Thursday morning, and union members are expected to wrap up voting on the Champaign campus by Friday evening. They’ll remain on strike until a contract is ratified.

“This is what we have been waiting for,” union officials wrote in a message to members. “Now, perhaps more than ever before, it is important that we show up together and for each other to make a conscientious decision. We must trust each other and our bargaining team.”

Representatives from both sides declined to comment on the specifics of the tentative deal.

“We got together at the bargaining table, which is something we’ve been trying very hard to do,” university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said. “Both sides worked together very collaboratively through the day, into the night and into the morning for 26 hours to address the concerns each of us had.”

Union members camped in the hallway outside university president Timothy Killeen’s office for almost two days, starting Tuesday evening, as the “marathon” bargaining session dragged on, GEO spokeswoman Ashli Anda said. According to union leaders, it’s their longest strike since they formed in the mid-1990s.

The previous contract for the 2,700 member graduate employee union expired in August, and they went on strike Feb. 26 as they seek guaranteed tuition waivers and a bump in minimum base pay, among other stipulations. The school had eyed changes to the waivers to save money and tweak programming, though officials said any changes would not go into effect for currently enrolled students.

Graduate employees from several Chicago universities were joined by Chicago Teachers Union members during a Wednesday march to the Loop offices of three U. of I. trustees, urging them to support the strikers.

U. of I. graduate assistants make an average of about $16,300 per year, according to an online campaign they’ve started to fund the strike. They also are seeking child care subsidies and expanded health care coverage in contract negotiations.

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