U. of I., Grad Instructors Agree on Contract

Teaching assistants wanted guarantee they could attend school for free

By Karen Hawkins
|  Tuesday, Nov 17, 2009  |  Updated 7:30 PM CDT
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The University of Illinois and its graduate instructors reached a tentative agreement Tuesday that may end a day-old strike at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

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The University of Illinois and its graduate instructors reached a tentative agreement Tuesday that may end a day-old strike at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

The strike began Monday after weekend contract negotiations broke down over whether teaching assistants would be allowed to attend the university for free.

The new three-year agreement resolves that dispute by pledging that tuition waivers won't be reduced as long as graduate instructors meet certain conditions, including that they hold qualifying assistantships, are in good academic standing, and are making progress toward graduation in the program in which they began.

In a statement, interim provost and interim chancellor Robert Easter said he hopes union members will vote in favor of the agreement.

"We value the contributions our graduate assistants make to the campus, and we feel this tentative agreement represents the best possible contract given the financial constraints we face," Easter said.

Peter Campbell, spokesman for the Graduate Employees' Organization, said Tuesday that while the picketing on campus has ended, the strike will continue until an unofficial vote on the new agreement is taken in the evening.

Grad instructors could return to work as early as Wednesday morning, he said.

Campbell estimated that more than 1,000 union members are participating in the strike. University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the school couldn't verify that number.

Instructors on the picket lines and in the bargaining team are "overjoyed" with the new agreement, Campbell said. The union's full membership is set to vote on the contract by week's end.

"What we've proved here today is that the labor movement is alive and well in the United States," Campbell said.

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