UIC GEO - Graduate Employees Organization
The GEO is a union representing the 1500+ teaching and graduate assistants employed at the University of Illinois-Chicago. We have been fighting to give graduate employees a voice in the decisions that affect their working conditions since 1994. Over the years we helped many graduate employees resolve work-related issues, as well as won benefits for all graduate employees, such as dental coverage in 1999 and vision coverage in 2000.
In Fall Semester 2004, we won recognition and were certified by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board as the exclusive bargaining agent (i.e. the Union) for Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants. As a result of this victory, we are currently working under our first contract with the University which will expire August 2009. This school year is a crucial time for the GEO as we gear up to bargain our second contract with the University—we need all the solidarity and activism we can get!
The GEO was first conceived in the fall of 1994, when several teaching assistants in UIC’s English department met on the lawn in front of the Behavioral Sciences Building to discuss their unreasonably heavy workloads. This group began the work of organizing UIC’s graduate employees into a union that would represent all graduate employees in collective bargaining with the university over pay, benefits, terms, and conditions of employment. In the winter of 1995 they hosted a meeting of representatives from several recognized graduate employee unions and from the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the U of I Champaign-Urbana, who by that time had been organizing aggressively for about two years. Throughout 1995-96, UIC-GEO continued to make contacts in new departments. We learned in 1997 that the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) was interested in supporting our campaign.
1997 saw UIC-GEO recruiting heavily in many departments. We raised the profile of the UIC-GEO on campus and built intellectual and social community among UIC’s graduate employees. But that year the university administration began flexing its legal muscle in an attempt to defeat the UIUC-GEO in Champaign-Urbana, and in early 1998 the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board sided with the university administration and handed down a decision barring all graduate employees from union representation. UIC-GEO dealt with this situation by organizing campaigns to win specific benefits for graduate employees, and we persuaded the university to provide all graduate employees with dental and vision insurance. Graduate employees received dental coverage in fall of 1999 and received vision coverage in fall of 2000.
From 2000-03 UIC-GEO continued to organize at UIC in support of changes to state law that would permit graduate employees to organize. In 2003 these changes came to fruition, and between ‘03 and ‘04 we organized heavily across campus, building membership to an all-time high, and won Union recognition using the card check process in September, 2004. We have been bargaining our first contract since January, 2005.
The Graduate Employees Organization, Local 6297 is in affiliation with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, and is a part of the AFL-CIO.