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ISU Graduate Student Union To Hold Strike Vote

Ralph Weisheit
Illinois State University and Local 73 of the Service Employees International representing graduate teaching assistants have been in contract talks off and on since 2019.

The 400-plus members of the graduate student workers union at Illinois State University will vote Oct. 4 on whether to strike.

Union bargaining team member Trevor Rickerd said the union and university administration remain far apart on economic issues, including pay and mandatory fees of $2,500 for ISU graduate students. The two sides have been talking since 2019, though summers and the pandemic have impeded negotiations.

“When you are talking about someone who is already making the minimum stipend at the university, that’s 25% of their annual pay already … We believe that number should be much lower,” said Rickerd.

Other items in contention, Rickerd said, include a no-strike clause and limits on involvement in other labor issues.

“In negotiations, they have stated that workers who for example show support for other unions on campus verbally or in writing if they were to attempt a strike that they could be subject to punishment up to being fired, which we don’t believe is legal and an infringement on one’s free speech,” said Rickerd.

He said the administration and graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), who are Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have not agreed on the length of the contract either, though not everything is at an impasse.

“We have made tentative agreements on a lot of non-economic topics,” said Rickerd.

Last semester, 98% of union members authorized the bargaining team to call for a strike if necessary. Now the team has called for a strike vote on Oct. 4. A walkout is not certain even if the vote to strike carries.

“The only thing that would stop that is if the university would come back to us with a contract offer that we could take to our units, but between now and then there’s a lot of talking to happen,” said Rickerd.

A strike would require 10 days legal notice before the action could commence. The next scheduled bargaining session with a federal mediator is on Sept. 28.

ISU spokesperson Eric Jome referred questions about administration positions to a website created by the university with its latest offer: Status of Negotiations with SEIU Local 73 - Illinois State

ISU noted the no-strike clause is a common one that governs the period of the contract in question.

According to the university website on the status of negotiations, ISU offered an increase in minimum stipends: 16.5%+ at ratification and an additional 10%+ over the following two years, and an additional year to the contract, with an increase between 7.49% and 11.99% to the minimum stipends in that additional year.

GTAs who already earn more than the new minimum stipend would receive increases of 2% at ratification and in each subsequent contract year, said the university. ISU said its proposal exceeds the average minimum stipends for part-time (.50 FTE), 9-month GTAs across 20 peer institutions of $9,151 (master’s) and $10,572 (doctoral) at the start of the contract. ISU said its tuition waiver provisions also said more generous than most peer institutions.

The union said it intends to continue picketing and other actions to raise awareness of its issues with the school administration.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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