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Graduate workers union leaders support ISU's final contract offer

Graduate student worker holding sign during protest
Emily Bollinger
Graduate student workers at Illinois State University have been negotiating with ISU for nearly two years and frequently staged protests on campus.
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The bargaining unit for the graduate workers union at Illinois State University recommends its rank-and-file approve what the university calls its “last, best and final” contract offer.

Steven Lazaroff, a Ph.D. student in the Department of English, said the university finally made real concessions on pay and other issues when the administration and the union’s bargaining unit met Sept. 28, days before the union scheduled a strike authorization vote.

“We think this contract has a lot of wins in it. While it’s nowhere near enough, the poverty wages will still continue, but we are going to use this contract as a foundation to keep building,” Lazaroff said.

About 400 members of the graduate student workers have until Sunday to vote on the offer. Members are asked to either approve the two-year contract or authorize a strike.

“Membership is not where we need it to be in order to have an effective strike, but because of the build to a possible strike, we were able to put so much pressure on ISU that we were able to deliver some serious wins to people who are hurting,” Lazaroff said.

Graduate student workers have frequently protested on the ISU campus in recent weeks, including a hunger strike the union staged last week.

Pay has been one of the main points of contention. The proposal calls for stipend increases of more than 25% for master's student workers and 23% for Ph.D. student workers, while graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) already paid over the minimum would get a 3% raise.

Minimum stipends would increase in the second year by 8% for master's student workers and 7% for Ph.D. student workers. Returning GTAs would see a 2% increase, according to the university.

When asked for comment, ISU administration referred WGLT to the university website that includes details of what it calls its final offer.

“This proposal reflects significant movement by the university and is competitive, sustainable, and fiscally responsible,” said the university, adding the offer exceeds minimum average stipends at comparable institutions.

The minimum stipends for master's student workers would increase to $10,800 and to $11,700 for Ph.D. students, retroactive to Aug. 1.

“GTAs are, first and foremost, students. A graduate assistantship is not intended to be equivalent to a full-time job,” the university said on its website.

The union indicated GTAs also would get what the union calls a "fair new grievance procedure" and expanded non-discrimination protections. The contract also provides fee relief by offering a 10% credit on mandatory student fees, and would save graduate workers $756 per academic year for full-time students enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP).

Negotiations have been ongoing for nearly two years, though talks were interrupted by summer breaks and the coronavirus pandemic.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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