solidarity across unions

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Decisive vote creates SIUC graduate employee union 

CARBONDALE, IL With a two to one show of force, Graduate Assistants United-IEA/NEA of Southern Illinois University Carbondale wound up a year-and-a-half long organizing campaign on Wednesday with a strong vote to unionize. Over 400 graduate assistants took part in the vote with a final count of 248 for representation and 112 opposed. Dozens of challenged ballots insufficient to affect the outcome of the vote were also cast. The total voting unit was 982 GAs although GAs at SIUC have ranged from 1,200 to 1,600 per semester by recent counts provided by the university through Freedom of Information Act requests by GA United.

Political Science Teaching Assistant Marinus van Kuilenburg co-chairs GA United with Shelly McGrath, a Research Assistant in Sociology. Van Kuilenburg was pleased with the turnout and strong support the vote represents.

"This is a great victory for the many grad employees who make this place work. That is why this is good for SIUC," van Kuilenburg said.

Graduate employees at SIUC are hardworking, motivated and care greatly about the work they do in service to our students. With the security of a collective bargaining agreement and representation from the IEA/NEA, they will be able to do even more.

McGrath said individual contacts were made over the last several semesters with most of the eligible voters by a large core of union activists on campus and through phone banks. "Through this campaign we found that GAs are tired of onerous fee increases, stipends and basic benefits that lag behind peer institutions, and less than desirable working conditions for many. We organized to gain a voice and put to stop to the unilateral decisions that make a hard job even harder."

While many of SIUC's graduate employees serve the university in non-academic areas, this vote follows the organizing trend across Illinois and the nation by contingent academic labor, now the majority of those teaching undergraduate students at American colleges and universities.

"Now we are now ready to work with the SIUC administration and SIU Board to begin to solve problems to the mutual benefit of everyone at SIUC," van Kuilenburg said. "We won our seat at the table, but this is only the first step. Now it's time for us to sign up members and continue with work in progress to develop bargaining proposals. All GAs can easily find and complete an electronic bargaining survey at our website: http://www.gaunited.org. We look forward to sitting down together to create a first rate contract that makes things better for all of us. Now is when the real work begins."

The Illinois Education Association/NEA has represented nearly 700 SIUC tenure-line faculty since 1996 and more than 450 civil service professionals dating back to the 1970s. Exactly one year ago, Non-Tenure Track Faculty at the campus voted in their own IEA affiliated union local.

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The Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions is a loose-knit coalition of labor unions in the USA and Canada that represents graduate students employed as teachers, researchers, and administrative staff.