Bargaining Update

Your GAU bargaining team is negotiating for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement – which covers all GA working conditions at SIU.  The team has been bargaining for quite for close three years, unfortunately due to the state budget crisis we have been in a bit of a holding pattern.

The bargaining team has been working and had some successes.  We have agreed with the university to including non-discrimination language in the contract.  We have clarified how vacation works – giving everyone on a yearlong appointment 12 days – allowing international students or those with families far from Illinois the ability to go for a visit.  We have created new language to protect letters offered to incoming GAs offering multiple years of funding.  We also are fairly close on an agreement to be able finish the contract but then be to bargain for salaries if the state gives a budget to the university.

We are still bargaining on other matters.  The biggest issues remains fees – we have gone back and forth with the administration many times, but they argue against doing anything about them, especially given the budget.  We are also working on GAs having work more hours than for which they paid, the number of credit hours you have to work to be eligible to be a GA, and having departments determine GA’s eligibility for assistantship rather than the central administration.

We are hoping we can wrap up bargaining this semester.

Bargaining a contract is important to GA working conditions.  The union’s recent success in bringing back 75% appointments in large part to the efforts of previous bargaining teams which gave us good language to grieve.

If you want more information about bargaining or want to come observe a bargaining session, please let us know.  Or you can come see us during a happy hour.

Bargaining Update

Your GAU bargaining team has been meeting regularly with the administration. It has been a difficult environment in which to bargain with the collapse of the state budget under Governor Bruce Rauner. Nevertheless there has been progress made and we are fairly close to finishing.

After consulting with the officers and department stewards of GAU your team presented a package proposal to wrap up all the remaining issues in one shot. We presented ours February 11.

As part of the package considering the financial state of the university we asked for no raise and instead focused on fee relief as that has consistently been what you have said is the most important issue. On March 10 we received a response from the administration which was their package. The good news what that it was clear they were making a serious effort to come to an agreement with us, however there is still some distance to go.

The main remaining issues revolve around the cost of fees, funding caps on the number of semesters GAs are funded, how summer tuition waivers work, and vacation leave (as for 12 month appointed GAs it may be hard to get time to visit their families at home – especially for international grads).

-GAU Bargaining Team

Bargaining Contract Update

Your GAU bargaining team has been negotiating with the administration.  Thus far we have talked about:

  • Grad employment evaluations
  • Increasing vacation time for 12 month employs so GAs not from nearby can see their families (some international GAs go years at a time without seeing their families)
  • Discipline processes
  • Anti-discrimination language
  • Workload protections (including specifying that an increase in class size is an increase in work)

Of course the elephant in the room remains the lack of a state budget. Governor Rauner is doing his best to damage higher education and worker protection making national news from the New York Times and the Daily Show to name a few. SIU has still received no funding from Springfield this year and is paying its bills by spending down its reserves. “SIU covered the costs of the grants in the fall semester anticipating reimbursement when the state budget is settled, and the university will do the same in the spring.”¹ As such the administration has been unwilling to talk in terms of specifics about financial issues.


What can you do?


Show the University that you support GAUnited by becoming a member or department steward.


Attend a Bargaining Session.


If you would are interested in observing how the bargaining process works, please contact the union at and we will contact you about attending.


Contact your legislators!



At the Bargaining Table

Your bargaining team has been hard at work going through our contract and compiling issues that negatively impact graduate assistants. As issues have come up over the past several years, we have been keeping track of them, in anticipation of the bargaining season. We have heard your concerns, and we hope that we will be able to improve the working conditions of GAs at this University with our new contract. To that end, we have formally presented our issues and interests to the Board’s bargaining team over the course of three meetings. We identified and presented 22 different issues:

  1. GA Stipends & Employment Fees
  2. Summer Healthcare
  3. Health Insurance Fee
  4. Training & Orientation
  5. Minimum Credit Hour Requirement
  6. GAU Office
  7. GA Workload & Quality Control
  8. Side Letter on Student Healthcare
  9. Access to GAU Bargaining List
  10. Fair Share
  11. Sick Leave
  12. Bereavement Leave
  13. Taxable Tuition for GAs (not RA or TA positions)
  14. Vacation
  15. Information Requests (Dean’s Email List and Board Budget Proposals)
  16. Eliminate 48-month Funding Caps
  17. GA-taught Class Size Caps
  18. Class Size Requirements not Counting Tuition Waiver Graduate Students Toward Enrollment Numbers
  19. Springfield Campus GA Spousal Healthcare
  20. Tuition Waivers / Scholarships
  21. Non-discrimination Policy
  22. GAU’s ability to file a chapter grievance on behalf of GAs
The Board’s team also presented a number of interests, though there is a considerable degree of overlap. Some other issues opened by the Board’s team include: GA Evaluation Process, Discipline and Dismissal process for GAs, and Additional Employment.
Now that you know what issues are on the table for negotiations, we will be asking you, our members, for your comments on these issues. We hope to hold dedicated events to these bargaining interests in which we will provide information and solicit feedback from you, so keep an eye out for announcements. Bargaining is a top priority for this year’s GAU leadership, so you can be certain that bargaining will be on the agenda for all of our Executive Committee and General Membership Meetings. In the meantime, if you have any concerns, or comments concerning the issues we presented, please feel free to contact the GAU Bargaining Team at
In Solidarity,
Sandy Kim


Contract negotiations and bargaining can appear to be a daunting, long, and drawn-out process. GAU Vice-President for Communications Kevin Taylor recently contacted GAU Lead Negotiator Jim Podesva and Bargaining Team Spokesperson and Contract Enforcement Specialist Sandy Kim to ask both of them about the ins and outs of the process.

Kevin Taylor: The previous contract with the university expired on June 30, 2014. Shouldn’t we have had the new contract ready to go right away to start August 1, 2014? Why the delay? Has this resulted in any lost benefits on the part of graduate students? For example, in the old contract we received a raise every new academic year; did we receive a raise this year? Is everyone affected or just union members?

Jim Podesva: It would have been great if we’d had a new contract all ready to go, but both sides have to agree on it. It is hard to coordinate schedules, particularly during the summer, so both sides agreed that substantive bargaining would occur in the fall.

Sandy Kim: As you can imagine, it can be a time-consuming process, particularly with the difficulties scheduling meeting times for a dozen meeting to come together. GAs are covered by the terms of our old Agreement until a new one is agreed upon and signed, so we are still covered until our new Agreement takes hold. When our new Agreement is approved, it will apply retroactively from the time of expiration of our old contract. Continuing with your example, if we are able to negotiate a raise for graduate assistants for this academic year, it would apply retroactively, which should result in back pay for the length of our contracts working under the expired Agreement (so, for most of us, August – new contract). This affects all graduate assistants who are covered by the contract, dues-paying member or not.

Kevin: In March last semester GAU and several other unions came together with their “Intent to Bargain Rally.” What was the significance of that to the current contract negotiations?

Sandy: Since all unions are bargaining at the same time, we wanted to publicly show solidarity with the other unions as we kicked off the bargaining process. While the interests of each union may be different, fundamentally each union desires an equitable contract for its members that is the product of good-faith bargaining. Hopefully, we will be able to continue holding joint events which is a great way to energize and mobilize members. Along those lines, some of our interests will necessarily align with those of some of the other unions and those would be good opportunities around which we can hold events and maintain open lines of communication with our University colleagues.

Kevin: So we’re in the midst of bargaining. Who is involved and why? For the Union and for the University.

Sandy: Our team is led by Jim Podesva (History), as our Lead Negotiator, with Bob Velez (Political Science) as Lead Negotiator Support, or Jim’s right-hand man. I (Sandy Kim – Political Science) serve as the Bargaining Team Spokesperson and Contract Enforcement Specialist. James Anderson (MCMA) is our Secretary-Recorder, and David Guggenheim (Business), Joel Amnott (Philosophy), and John Flowers (Philosophy) all serve as Co-Statisticians and Observers. Our team also includes Bret Seferian, who is our IEA/NEA Uniserv Director.

The Board’s team is led by Gary Kinsel (Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry), along with Deborah Nelson (General Counsel), Scott Ishman (Associate Dean of the College of Science), Lori Stettler (Assistant Vice Chancellor for Auxiliary Services), Katie Sermersheim (Dean of Students), Justin Schoof (Chair of Geography and Environmental Resources), and Beth Chester, who serves as their Note Taker.

Kevin: Are these things combative? What’s it like to be negotiating with the University? And how has the change in administration these past few months changed the dynamic?

Jim: There’s no doubt about it, the negotiations surrounding the last contract were adversarial and combative. There didn’t seem to be any real effort on the part of the administration to come to an agreement, and we fought every point, no matter how inconsequential. I’m pleased to say that with the change in administration there is also a change in tone to the current negotiations. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of stalling and negativity, but of course we’ll have to see how it goes further down the road.

Sandy: The sessions we have held haven’t felt particularly combative. At this point in the process, we’ve agreed upon the “Ground Rules” that will apply to the entire bargaining process and held the first of three scheduled meetings for each team to present their interests. We have yet to begin the substantive discussion on each individual issue yet, but based on the first handful of meetings we have had, I am optimistic for a bargaining season that is more collaborative than combative. By allowing each team to present their interests, without necessarily being married to specific terms or language, the goal is to have open and honest conversation and dialogue for each interest and together, come up with terms and language that is amenable to both sides of the table. The changes in administration seem to have brought about a collective sigh of relief that this bargaining season will not be as combative and antagonistic as the last round of negotiations tended to be at times.

Kevin: How long do negotiations typically last and why? How long do we expect these negotiations to last?

Jim: I don’t mean to be flippant, but they take as long as necessary. That being said, I’m optimistic we can come to an agreement in less than a year.

Sandy: I have no idea…though I certainly hope we have a new signed contract within the academic year.

Kevin: Are there many graduate student unions? If so, is there an existing model for negotiations?

Sandy: There are roughly 30 or so in the country, though some of them are within state university systems, so not very many at all. We are fortunate to have some institutional memory on our team this time around, with Jim Podesva, our lead negotiator, who also led negotiations for our last agreement. We have also been looking at other grad union contracts for language and interests that could work well for our contract.

Jim: Sadly, there aren’t a lot of graduate unions, but that is changing. Even at elite institutions there’s a move to organize graduate assistants, and there should be. Without graduate assistants, a university can’t function, whether it is SIUC or the University of Chicago.

Kevin: What are the top items up for negotiation and why? How does GAU solicit feedback from the student body?

Sandy: Last year, we sought feedback from our membership in anticipation of the upcoming bargaining season with an online survey from which we able to determine the top three interests: fees, stipends (salaries), and healthcare. We continue to have conversations with members, and graduate assistants more generally, and these discussions will also provide items for bargaining. Serving as the Grievance Committee Chair, I’ve also dealt with a number of issues that will likely be a part of our negotiations. As we delve further into the bargaining process, we hope to hold events at which we could provide information and solicit feedback from our general membership.

Kevin: What, if anything, can students do to support the union through negotiations? Can we make negotiations go any faster or smoother?

Sandy: The most important way for GAs to support the union is to sign a membership form and become dues-paying members. Although every GA is covered by the contract, only 10 to 15 percent are dues-paying members of GAU. It’s in our best interests to be able to tell the Board’s team that we represent 50% of all GAs as opposed to 20%. It’s a numbers game in some respects, and higher membership gives us greater clout around the bargaining table. It’s a great deal easier to say we speak for our members when we have the increased numbers to back up our claims for representation. We also hope that our members, and GAs more generally, take advantage of opportunities to receive information and give feedback when we hold events and meetings related to bargaining.

SIU unions give university notice of intent to begin contract negotiations

After a Wednesday rally at Morris Library, four of SIU’s unions gave university administrators formal notice of intent to begin contract negotiations with letters delivered to Carbondale Chancellor Rita Cheng.

The unions — the SIUC Faculty Association, SIU Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, Graduate Assistants United and the Association of Civil Service Employees — are part of the Illinois Education Association and represent more than 3,000 faculty and staff with a June 30 expiration date in their contracts with the university.

“We were fulfilling a contractually-requested process to begin bargaining as part of our timeline,” said George Boulukos, vice president of the SIUC Faculty Association, about Wednesday’s rally. “We requested to begin the process formally.”

Two years and four months have passed since the previous round of negotiations resulted in a six-day strike by the SIUC Faculty Association in November 2011.

The other three unions were able to reach an agreement with university administrators to avoid a strike.

“We want this round of negotiations to be constructive and not drawn out,” said SIUC Faculty Association President Rachel Stocking. “The last round did not go well and ended up with a strike for us.

“We would like (the negotiations) to be mutually respectful and start out with a positive step.”

Stocking said that the union is in the process of distributing surveys among its members seeking to gauge the level of importance of “certain issues” to see how to proceed in negotiations.

Stocking would not specify what those issues are.

“I think we need to be prepared for a number of different kinds of possibilities as far as how things are going to go,” Stocking said.

Denny LeMaster, spokesman for Graduate Assistants United, said the union is looking for health insurance for its members and scaling worker compensation with fee increases, among other things.

“As outlined in our bylaws, the university has 45 days to respond,” LeMaster said. “At this point, it’s just waiting to hear back from the university.”

Jim Wall, president of the SIU Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, said that it is too early to tell what the interests of his union are, but he is hoping for constructive dialog with university administrators.

“The ball is in the administration’s court to determine a timeline to meet and set some ground rules,” Wall said. “I have been asked how long this may take and I said I didn’t know.

“It could be a fairly short process or a long process.”

Cheng said that it is the university’s intent to meet with the unions before the end of the spring semester to talk about key issues. SIU’s spring semester ends May 9.

“We’ve just exchanged our willingness to get started,” Cheng said. “We share the goal of reaching a fair and equitable contract and the unions are expressing their desire to work with the university.”

All three union representatives expressed hope and optimism that incoming SIU President-designate Randy J. Dunn could be a positive influence in negotiations.

Dunn has said he plans to take office on July 1, the day after the union contracts expire and current SIU President Glenn Poshard’s retirement begins.

“(Dunn) was a member of the (SIUC) Faculty Association when he was on campus,” Boulukos said. “We hope he has a different approach than what happened last time.”

Dunn was a member of SIU’s faculty from 1995 to 2004 and became chairman of the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education in 2000.

Cyndie Kessler-Criswell, president of the Association of Civil Service Employees, could not be reached for comment.

General Membership Meeting Wednesday February 19!

Spring 2014 GMM posterMark your calendars for the 2nd annual GAU General Membership Meeting on Wednesday February 19. We have set aside two times to facilitate our member’s busy schedules so come out at either 12 – 1 pm or 7 – 8 pm in the Student Center Missouri/Kaskaskia Rooms. This meeting is free and open to the public. As the current GAU contract is running up and the time to Bargain is upon us, this is probably the most important meeting of the year to have your voices heard in a town hall format!

I look forward to seeing you there! Food will be served.

Also, the 2nd annual Steward Council will be meeting on Wednesday February 19 from 5:30 – 6:30 pm in the Student Center river rooms. This meeting is designed for current GAU Stewards, as well as for folks interested in becoming a Steward for their Department. We will be having informal discussion about what folks are seeing in their departments, particularly as it applies to our upcoming Bargaining events.

As always, let us know if you have any questions. We’d love to see you out!