Legal Rights

The primary source of rights for Graduate Assistants is the Collective Bargaining Agreement (contract) negotiated between the SIUC Administration and GA United. This contract also establishes a procedure for enforcing those rights- the Grievance Procedure as laid out in article 20 of the Contract.One of the most important rights Graduate Assistants have is the Right to Union Representation:

‘Assistants have the right to Union representation throughout the entire disciplinary process and during any investigatory interview that may lead to discipline.’ (article 19.5 of the contract)

This article guarantees you the right to have a union representative (Steward, GAU Officer or any other designee) presents in a meeting with a Department Chair, supervisor, Dean or Provost if you believe that some form of discipline may result from such a meeting. It is important to remember that you must ask for this representation yourself- the Administration is not legally obliged to remind you of this right!

If you are in a meeting and all of a sudden it stops being about academic issues and your performance as a GA is under scrutiny you can ask to stop the meeting and request union presence by calmly stating the following:

“If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or could affect my personal working conditions, I request that a Union Representative be present at this meeting.”

Say this, repeat it, and do not engage in any further discussion except to reschedule, if necessary.

Union representation provides you with a spokesperson, knowledgeable of the contract and ensures that this contract is enforced uniformly across campus. While you may feel like you are confronting your boss or supervisor, having a GA United representative present more often means an amicable and satisfactory resolution for you.

You have other legal rights and protections in addition to the GAU Agreement.

Graduate Assistants also have a number of other protections and legal rights that come from other sources. An example of these would be Constitutional Rights- the most important of these are the right to free speech (academic freedom, rights of association (such as joining a union) and the right to political speech) and the right to due process. Due process ensures that the legal rights of individuals are safeguarded by following established legal principles – guaranteeing fairness.
Graduate Assistants also have rights as laid down in the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (IELRA). This Act allows Graduate Assistants to organize in unions.
“It shall be lawful for educational employees to organize, form, join, or assist in employee organizations or engage in lawful concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection or bargain collectively through representatives of their own free choice and, except as provided in Section 11, such employees shall also have the right to refrain from any or all such activities.” Section 3 IELRA.
It also requires the employer and the union to enter into collective bargaining concerning wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment- i.e. negotiate a collective bargaining contract. It prohibits the SIUC Administration from, for example,  discriminating or retaliating against Graduate Assistants who are engaged in union activities. The law also prohibits the SIUC Administration from unilaterally changing the working conditions of Graduate Assistants without consulting the union.
Violations of this Act can result in an Unfair Labor Practice charge being filed by the union against SIUC.
This may all seem complicated and overwhelming but as a member of GA United you never stand alone! GA United has a Grievance Committee dedicated to enforcing the contract and protecting your legal rights as a GA. In addition the Illinois Education Association also has a full time UniServ Director on staff at its Marion Office along with eight (8) attorneys in the IEA Legal Department who provide legal assistance for job- related disputes when necessary.

For help with non-work related legal matters dues paying members can take advantage of the National Education Associations Attorney Referral Program.

If you have any question concerning your legal rights, contact your GAU Steward or the Carterville office of the IEA IMMEDIATELY at 1-800-431-3730.