GEO IFT Local 6300 Wins Binding Arbitration Ruling Against University Over Unilateral Tuition Waiver Denial



In this GEO-L:








In 2009, we went on strike to win language protecting tuition waivers for our members.  In Summer 2010, the University Administration violated our hard-won contract by announcing that incoming graduate students in Fine and Applied Arts (FAA) would receive only in-state tuition waivers.  Even after the University offered scholarships to cover the difference, many new FAA grads owed an additional $1,000, in violation of the contract.  


So we did what we always do when our contract is violated - organize and file a grievance!  Today, we learned that the grievance arbitrator issued a binding ruling that the University violated our contract and must make restitution to FAA grad employees who were negatively affected by the tuition waiver change.   


What does this mean for the GEO? 

It means all of our labor in bargaining, the strike, and FAA organizing was successful--we've set a precedent for all future negotiations with the University.  The arbitrator ruled that "the Union's grievance has merit and that the Employer's actions violated the plain terms and conditions of the 2009-12 Letter of Agreement executed by the parties"


What does this mean for affected graduate employees in the College of Fine and Applied Arts?

The arbitrator ruled that "the Administration is forthwith directed to make the Grievants who have been adversely affected by the unilateral elimination of full tuition waivers whole"


The is a major victory for the union, and could not have occurred without the hard work and commitment of so many members. Congratulations and thanks to all of you! If you would like to learn more about the arbitrator's ruling we will discuss this at tomorrow's General Membership Meeting at 5:30pm in the YMCA. We will have hard copies of the decision on hand for those members who would like to read through it in person. 





The first GEO general membership meeting will take place tomorrow, Wednesday, September 21st at 5:30 PM at the University YMCA. Come learn about your union, hear updates about grievances and upcoming bargaining, meet the new staff organizer, Aaron Johnson-Ortiz, find out how you can get involved in different GEO committees, and vote on this year’s budget! Food will be provided!




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In solidarity,



GEO Wins Landmark Case Against Major Public University

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Urbana-Champaign, IL (October 3): The Graduate Employees' Organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has won a landmark arbitration ruling in a contract dispute with UIUC administrators over tuition waivers.  


An independent arbitrator has ruled that an attempt by University of Illinois officials to reduce tuition waivers for some incoming graduate employees represents a clear violation of the contract between the union and the Illinois Board of Trustees.    


Tuition waivers are a benefit of employment, which represent no cost to the University.  Preventing reduction of tuition waivers will preserve quality of education at Illinois, organizers say, while protecting vital labor standards.  


In November 2009, over 1,000 Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) members went on strike to prevent the reduction or elimination of tuition waivers for graduate employees. This was the fifth largest work stoppage in the United States in 2009.  They GEO won contract language protecting tuition waivers for current and future Teaching and Graduate Assistants at UIUC.  


In the Summer of 2010, the GEO learned of a policy change affecting tuition waivers for incoming graduate employees in several departments in the College of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA).  Effective Fall of 2010, incoming graduate employees in these departments were no longer granted waivers for out-of-state tuition.  Even with temporary scholarships, many Fine and Applied Arts graduate employees, earning between $7,000.00 and $9,000.00 per academic year, were left with additional fees totaling up to $1,000.00.     


This change in tuition waiver policy was a clear violation of the GEO's contract with the Illinois Board of Trustees.  In 2010, the GEO filed a grievance alleging a contract violation, while GEO members launched a public awareness campaign that included email and letter drives, communication with elected officials, testimony to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, and other events.    


By attempting to charge incoming graduate employees tuition in clear violation of its contract with teaching and graduate assistants, administrators have cost the University of Illinois as much as $100,000.00.  This is yet another example of flawed budget priorities at UIUC, where the most vulnerable members of the University community are frequently asked to shoulder the burdens of budget shortfalls. 


After an arbitration hearing in mid-July, an independent arbitrator on September 20 declared the University's tuition waiver policy in violation of its contract with the GEO. The arbitrator ordered the U of I administration to make whole any harm done to graduate employees.


The arbitration victory marks a significant achievement for GEO members.  According to GEO communications officer Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy, "not only does the ruling secure tuition waivers as a benefit of employment for graduate employees, which is absolutely necessary to maintain accessibility to public higher education at UIUC; it also helps protect the arts from budgetary cutbacks."


While the GEO has much cause to celebrate, the story of tuition waivers and the arts at UIUC is not over. The GEO is entering another bargaining year.  According to GEO Co-President Miriam Larsen, "our members are fully committed to protecting the tuition waivers that make a high quality graduate education accessible to a diverse student body.”




For more information, please contact Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy, Communications Officer, at 858-382-2271 or  More information can also be found on the website at

UIUC Administrators Declare They Won't Comply w/ Tuition Waivers

via email

GEO members, 


Instead of working to fix their violation of our contract, the University administration is spending even more of our vital resources to ignore their contractual obligations to our membership.  


Yesterday, Grievance Officer Michael Verderame received a letter from Joe Bohn, the University of Illinois' Assistant Director for Labor and Employee Relations, declaring that the University has no intention of complying with the arbitrator's ruling in our FAA tuition waiver case.  Bohn simply declares that the arbitrator misinterprets the contract, and that his ruling does not apply.   


The University's position is wrong.  The neutral arbitrator's ruling is well supported by our contract.  


Because this is a legal matter, the GEO grievance committee is consulting with our Illinois Federation of Teachers lawyers as to our best course of action.  The Coordinating Committee also meets tomorrow, at 5:30 PM in the YMCA (1001 S. Wright Street, Champaign) to discuss how we can organize around the admin's response (we will allocate 30 minutes of the meeting for this issue). All members are welcome to attend.      


We will continue to work to ensure the University administration complies with the contract.    


What are the details, and what can we members do? 


In his ruling, the arbitrator carefully reviews all relevant portions of our contract, as well as other evidence from both parties, and concludes that "following careful review of the evidence placed into the record and the accompanying arguments of the parties as well, I conclude that the Local has met their evidentiary obligation in this instance."  


The arbitrator cites the University administration's own statements about tuition waivers to conclude that the language of our contract should be read as "clear and unambiguous on its face," and that the "Employer's actions violated the plain terms and conditions" of the contract side letter protecting tuition waivers that we went on strike for in 2009.


The arbitrator’s ruling also clearly refutes the arguments Mr. Bohn makes in the University's response.  The ruling says that our contract gives the University administration the right to determine tuition waiver policy only when that policy is not in clear violation of our contract.  


Jay C. Fogelberg is a neutral arbitrator who was agreed to by both parties.  His ruling cites numerous precedents from previous decisions, labor law, and relevant scholarship on arbitration and contract language.  By declaring that they will ignore his ruling, the University administration is sending a clear signal that they should only have to follow our contract when they agree with what it says.    


Three news stories cover the ruling and the University's response in The Chronicle of Higher Education blog, the Daily Illini, and the Champaign News-Gazette.  The more of us that submit comments to these stories supporting the arbitrator’s ruling, the more we show the Champaign-Urbana and campus community that we are standing strong to protect our contract.  


We've staged an historic strike to protect our tuition waivers.  We've won a landmark arbitration ruling.  We won't let the UI administration get away with ignoring their obligation to abide by our contract. 


Stay tuned for how we can organize and respond to this decision, and come to the Coordinating Committee meeting tomorrow if you want to be part of the discussion.  


We've shown them before, and we'll show them again: Síse puede!  



In solidarity,


GEO Communications Committee

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