Contract Bargaining

What is bargaining?
GEO is the sole bargaining agent for graduate employees at UIC. This means that members of GEO negotiate a contract with representatives of the university, and that this contract governs our employment here. Because GEO has legal standing as the bargaining agent for graduate employees, the agreements we reach during contract negotiations with the university are binding. This means that involvement with GEO provides a unique opportunity to compel the university to make decisions that will ensure our fair treatment.

What can bargaining accomplish?
Through collective bargaining based on the input of hundreds of members, GEO has secured improved working conditions, more open communication with administration, and guaranteed salary increases and protections against unfair labor practices.

Who represents GEO at the bargaining table? How are they selected?
The bargaining team comprises GEO members elected by the GEO membership during GEO’s regular elections. Before ever getting to the bargaining table, the team conducts surveys to determine the memebership’s needs and priorities, researches topics relevant to our contract, and crafts the language that they propose at the table. The bargaining team is also supported by GEO staff.

Who represents the University?
The University’s bargaining team typically includes representatives from Labor Relations and Human Resources, as well as department heads and other administrators from the Grad College.

Should I attend the bargaining sessions?
All GEO members are encouraged to attend bargaining sessions with the University. Come whenever you can for however long you can. The more members attending, the better as it puts increased pressure on the University to bargain in good faith. Bargaining is rarely about the arguments made at the table and far more about what the University feels compelled to do. An engaged membership is one whose demands the University must take seriously; UIC works because we do.

What can I expect when I attend?
During the session, GEO members from the bargaining committee will negotiate the new contract with the University’s representatives. The University will make counterproposals, and it will be up to the members in attendance to decide if they are acceptable or if we should present a counterproposal of our own. If there is a major decision, we will take it to a general membership meeting for a vote.

Why does GEO bargaining team only have one spokesperson?
To facilitate the smoothest negotiations possible, the union and university teams each designate one member to serve as a lead negotiator. Because the GEO is an egalitarian organization committed to enacting democracy in every facet of its operations, various members of the bargaining committee will take on this role. The lead negotiator presents the arguments for our proposed contract that has been prepared in advance by the bargaining team. Any member of the bargaining team can pass a note to the lead negotiator during the session. Also, the lead negotiator may call on a member of the bargaining team to address a specific point.

How do we decide whether or not to accept the University’s counterproposals?
All decisions are made during a caucus. When we caucus, the University’s team leaves the room and we have a discussion about their proposal. Decisions are made by the bargaining committee according to the majority opinion of members in attendance.

What is progressive bargaining?
Progressive bargaining is a legal principle that restricts parties to a contract negotiation such as ours from making certain kinds of proposals. For example, if the university offered a certain raise and then in a subsequent proposal offered a smaller raise, this would be a violation of labor law. In principle, both parties should be “moving towards each other,” iteratively making counterproposals that incorporate elements from each other’s proposals or approach the other’s numbers on quantitative topics. But if one or both party digs in and refuses to move, that’s not a violation of the principle of progressive bargaining; the only restriction is on moving backwards.

What is a tentative agreement (TA)?
Once one party puts a proposal on the table that is acceptable to both, we will “tentatively agree” to it: we put the agreed upon language in a document that both parties sign. This gets the article off the table and ends discussion of it. When bargaining, “TA” is used alternately as a verb (tentatively agree to) and noun (tentative agreement); this does occasionally cause confusion since we also talk about TAs (teaching assistants) a lot.

Why does it take multiple sessions to finish the bargaining process?
In short, we have a lot of articles in our contract, and several articles take a lot of iterations of exchanging counterproposals to reach a TA. Our contract covers a wide range of issues related to our employment at UIC—wages, health insurance, non-discrimination protections, hours of work, grievance and dismissal policies, even parking fees—these issues are complicated with financial and administrative implications for both us and the University. For this reason, the process of negotiating our contract takes a great deal of time. Additionally, the University has consistently come to sessions unprepared either to negotiate or present counterproposals. We should not tolerate tactics that would delay settling a fair contract for our members. It is the University’s responsibility to come prepared to negotiate a contract in an efficient manner.