GEO Strike at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Image from GEOs Facebook page.

Image from GEOs Facebook page.

The ongoing strike of 2,700 grad employees at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) entered day 4 at 8am this morning, making it the longest in UIUC’s history with no sign of slowing down.  This is an amazing thing to behold.  Wish you all were here.  I was proud to picket and shout with my son Sam yesterday. The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) is the sole bargaining agent for ~ 2,800 UIUC Teaching Assistants & Graduate Assistants. They are member run and open to all graduate employees. The GEO is the official venue through which Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants can negotiate with the University administration over our healthcare, wages, and other working conditions.

In 2009 GEO-IFT/AFT Local 6300 became the first union at UIUC to strike since the 1960s.  Hundreds of grad employees participated in daily noon rallies. Pickets went on around the Main Quad all day for 2 days in a very cold November rain before the University caved.  Other unions and community members joined the fight.

In 2013, inspired in part by GEO, 800 SEIU 73 Chapter 119 Building and Food Service workers walked off the job for 3 days.  One entire building of a dozen or so BSWs, who had insisted they would not strike, called at midnight when the strike began demanding to know where their signs were.  Ours was around-the-clock, 24-hour-a-day strike covering the whole campus, very different from GEO’s.  Only 20 people crossed.  It was March and nice weather for about an hour, after which picketers braved cold winds and disgusting rain that melted signs right off the sticks.  We had the support of GEO and other unions as well as community members who joined us or drove by and honked support, brought out donuts and coffee, pizza, etc.  We won, too.

In 2016 UIUC’s newest (and a very small) union NTFC struck for 3 days and then a short time later struck again for 3 more days before winning their core demands.  They only had to picket one building, but they were lively (and brave).  Campus unions and community members also helped.

Now in 2018 GEO is on strike again over many of the same issues as in 2009.  They are much bigger this time, I can tell you from personal experience (I have picketed in every one of the above) and their rallies are far larger (around 1,000, no kidding!) – and growing.  They began Monday morning by shutting down more buildings than 2009, and yesterday they added two!  The Administration is dug in, claiming there are only about 190 on strike, and the intrepid strikers are expecting and are prepared to stay out for two weeks or more!  Area unions and community members are joining them daily.  The GEO is an inspiration to us all, as always.

Rumors of the death of the labor movement have been greatly exaggerated.

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