GA United negotiates first contract

By Gus Bode

SIUC’s graduate assistants will get a raise of more than 13 percent over three years if a recently negotiated contract is put into effect.

GA United, the graduate assistants’ union that formed in January, finished 10 months of negotiations with the university Monday, said Ron Fields, president of the union. Fields said the negotiations produced the first ever contract between the graduate assistants and the university, which includes pay raises of three percent, six percent and four percent over three years.

The union’s membership and the SIU Board of Trustees must approve the contract before it takes effect, Fields said. The entire contract will be presented at a meeting of GA United tonight, he said.

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“(The contract) shows that we’re in the big leagues as a university,” Fields said. “It shows that we are aware of the responsibilities of the workers and the responsibilities of the administration to those workers.”

David Wilson, graduate dean and vice-chancellor for research, said he was pleased with the negotiations and the contract. Undertaking new projects can often be a challenge, he said, and he expected more problems than actually arose.

“If you had to do something like this, this was the way to do it,” he said.

The newly formed union has changed the relationship between the students and faculty, but not necessarily in a harmful way, he said.

Fields said if passed the raises would take effect retroactive to July 1, meaning the university’s 1,675 assistants would be paid the money they would have received if the contract were passed then.

The three-year contract also mandates university departments train their assistants adequately and it includes wording about protecting the assistants’ academic freedom. Students with half-time assistantships are also limited to working 20 hours per week under the contract, a rule Fields said was in place before but was not always enforced at the departmental level.

“Some departments had been working the assistants an average of 25 to 30 hours while they were still getting (the same) pay,” Fields said. “That was a huge problem.”

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Charles Harris, GA United’s vice president for membership, said the only major problem he feels the union has incurred since its inception is low membership. Less than 10 percent of the university’s graduate assistants pay the $17.70 per month to be a member of the union.

Harris said some of the university’s graduate assistants are “free riders,” meaning they recognize that they can benefit from the union’s actions without participating or paying dues. But Harris said the union would become stronger with more membership.

“If there’s any drawback I see it’s that we don’t have more people actually participating,” he said.

Joe Crawford can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 254 or [email protected]

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