Union: 'Bombshell' move could mean graduate assistant strike

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WAND) – Graduate assistants at the U of I may soon walk off the job and strike.

The potential move has to do with failed contract negotiations between the Graduate Employees Organization at the school and U of I administrators. The News-Gazette reports the union has worked with the school on a new deal since the last contract ended on Aug. 15, 2017.

The newspaper reports the GEO is unhappy with the decision of U of I leaders to bring tuition waivers into the negotiation conversation. In a Wednesday rally, union co-president Gus Wood called the move a “bombshell”, adding the graduate assistants he works with will “fight until the very end” to reach a deal they believe is fair.

The GEO includes teaching assistants and graduate assistants and involves about 2,700 members in total. The News-Gazette says the previous contract agreement included waivers and stipends in exchange for the work those people complete.

The university says it wants to reach a deal that helps both sides and also promotes stable academic programs at the school. U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler told The News-Gazette it is committed to helping union members who use waiver programs as long as the school can “be more nimble” in what it wants to do.

The GEO moved last week to start a 10-day countdown before graduate students are able to legally start a strike.

Kaler told the newspaper the school has “a strong shared interest” in reaching a mutual agreement on a contract. 

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