GEO Local 6300 IFT/AFT AFL-CIO at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Bargaining Basics

The history of Bargaining at UIUC

General Information About Bargaining

What is Bargaining?

Collective bargaining, or just bargaining for short, is the process by which a union (such as GEO) negotiates with employers (like the UIUC Administration) for the terms and conditions of employment that will apply to the workers it represents (the bargaining unit). Many aspects of the bargaining process are regulated by law. The result of bargaining negotiations will be a legally-enforceable collective bargaining agreement (a contract) which will bind the union, its bargaining unit, and the employer.

What is GEO’s philosophy towards bargaining?

GEO’s approach to bargaining is based on democratic decision-making principles, consistent with GEO’s constitution, and seeks to be as transparent as possible. Our bargaining pillars–the issues around which we have framed our new contract proposals–were derived from a survey sent out to members. Members then voted to approve these pillars at a General Membership Meeting before bargaining began. Bargaining team meetings and bargaining sessions are open for all members to attend, and members are given regular updates through our online newsletter (the GEO-L) and at General Membership Meetings.

Who takes part in bargaining?

GEO and the UIUC Administration each have a bargaining team who research, assemble, plan, and make decisions about bargaining documents and agendas. However, in the bargaining sessions, usually only the lead negotiators from each bargaining team engage in dialogue with the other side, though others may be invited to give a testimonial during the bargaining session.

What is the bargaining process?

The bargaining process begins when a union submits an Intent to Bargain. Bargaining sessions–blocks of time where the union and employers agree to meet to discuss the contract–are then scheduled. Bargaining can sometimes take months or even over a year, with bargaining sessions happening on a regular (often biweekly) basis, depending on how difficult it is for the union and employer to agree on the terms of the contract. The union presents a proposal for a comprehensive contract at the first bargaining session. The employer then has the opportunity to request more information and either accept the union’s proposed contract or offer a counter-proposal. The union and employer will continue modify their proposals while discussing the rational, the feasibility, and other issues until they reach an agreement. At this point the tentative contract is returned to union membership for review and ratification. Once the union membership approves the contract by a vote, it is signed and becomes legally binding.

What happens in a bargaining session?

During the bargaining session, the two bargaining teams sit facing one another, with any member in attendance sitting behind the union bargaining team. The lead negotiators take turns asking and answering questions, presenting proposals, and engaging in any other discussion that needs to take place. A caucus can be called during the session by either side for the bargaining teams to discuss matters in private before proceeding.

Now that GEO is in mediation with the Administration, the bargaining teams are in separate rooms and speak directly with the mediator. The mediator then passes information and proposals back and forth between the two teams.


Some common terms:

Arbitration: A method of settling a labor-management dispute by having an impartial third party decide the issue. The decision of the third party (arbitrator) is usually legally binding.

Bargaining in Good Faith: Both parties must meet at reasonable times and with willingness to reach agreement with respect to wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment, and execute a written contract incorporating any agreements reached. Bargaining in good faith does not require the parties to agree to a proposal or to make a concession.

Bargaining in Bad Faith:  This term refers to situations in which there is no real intent of trying to reach an agreement. Examples of bad faith bargaining include: failure to engage in the exchange of bargaining proposals; failure to offer counter proposals; unwarranted cancellation of sessions; delays in bargaining; failure to meet at appropriate times or places; regressive or surface bargaining (see below for definitions); or a general conduct designed to frustrate the bargaining process.

Bargaining Unit: A bargaining unit is a group of employees represented by a labor union and to whom the contract applies. For example, the bargaining unit for GEO is Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants.

Campus Wage Program/Campus-Wide General Salary Program: Campus wage program is a policy that the admin tries to get in union contracts which gives them unilateral control in deciding what our salaries will be. For 2016-2017, for example, our current contract stipulates that “assistants will be paid no less than $16,281/year for a 50% appointment on a 9 month service basis or an amount equivalent to the previous year’s minimum increased by the campus wage program for Academic Year 2016-2017 as established by the Provost’s Office, whichever is greater.” The GEO’s stance is that campus wage program is contrary to the concept of bargaining, as instead of collectively deciding on our wages at the bargaining table, the admin just imposes their decision on us.

Caucus: A caucus is when either bargaining team requests a break from the joint bargaining session to meet with their team privately.

Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (IELRA or Act): The IELRA is a law that establishes the right of educational employees to organize and bargain collectively, to define and resolve unfair practice disputes.

Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB): The IELRB administers the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (IELRA)

Fair Share: Fair share laws allow labor unions to collect dues towards their operating costs from all members of the bargaining unit, not just those who have signed membership cards.  These dues are considered “fair share” because unions provide services (filing grievances, negotiating contracts, legal representation, etc.) to everyone, not just card-signed members.

Grandfathering: This refers to a provision that an old rule applies to a specific group of people, while a new rule applies to all the future cases. For instance, the admin proposed diminishing tuition waivers for incoming and future graduate employees, but promised that current graduate employees would be grandfathered in and keep their tuition waivers per our current side letter. 

Impasse: Impasse exists if, in view of all the circumstances of bargaining, further discussions would be futile. Impasse does not exist if there is a ray of hope with a real potential for agreement if explored in good faith bargaining sessions. In examining whether or not impasse has been reached, the following factors are examined: 1) bargaining history; 2) the good faith of the parties in negotiations; 3) the length of negotiations; 4) the importance of the issue(s) as to which there is disagreement; and 5) the contemporaneous understanding of the parties as to the state of negotiations. When impasse is reached, there are basically two options left: accepting the admin’s “last, best, and final offer,” or going out on strike.

Mandatory Subjects of Bargaining: Wages, hours, and working conditions are considered mandatory subjects of bargaining. Both parties have a mutual obligation to bargain in good faith over these issues, which can be bargained to impasse. These are different from permissive subjects of bargaining (see below).

Mediation: Mediation is a form of dispute resolution using a neutral third party, called a mediator. Mediation is mandatory at the request of either party under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (IELRA). Mediators are generally called in late in the bargaining process to help facilitate.

Package proposals: Packaging proposals involves making concessions by placing highly prioritized issues for one side in a package with other issues they’re willing to compromise on, with the condition that the proposal comes as a whole and is not breakable. The other side should also make counter-package proposals.

Permissive Subjects of Bargaining: Issues that are not mandatory subjects of bargaining are considered permissive, meaning that either side can request to bargain over, but the other side can choose not to without bargaining in bad faith.  

Regressive Bargaining: a specific form of bad faith bargaining when one side moves backwards, offering less on a proposal than they previously offered. For example, if Admin proposes a 1% raise for us, they can never offer us any less than that. If one party thinks the other is bargaining regressively or in bad faith, they can file an unfair labor practice, or ULP.

Sidebar: A discussion that takes place between 2-3 bargaining team members (usually the lead negotiators of each team and a witness). The conversation takes place away from the bargaining table and is off-the-record. They are often used to clarify questions or share information.

Side Letter: An agreement outside the main body of the contract, but still as binding as anything else in the contract itself unless explicitly stated otherwise.  In our 2012-2017 contract, the tuition waiver protections were in a side letter.

Surface Bargaining: a tactic whereby an employer meets with the union, but only goes through the motions of bargaining. For example, they might offer aesthetic changes to contract language but refuse to make motion on substantive content.

Tentative Agreement (TA): In bargaining, TA stands for Tentative Agreement (not Teaching Assistant). A TA is a proposal, or package of proposals, that both parties have signed off on and agree will be in the final contract. Once something is TA’d it’s “off the table,” meaning neither side can make any more changes to it.

Unfair Labor Practice (ULP): Violating the rules of bargaining constitutes an unfair labor practice, and either party can officially charge the other of it by appealing to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB). Unfortunately, this process can take a long time, and because the board members are currently appointed by Rauner, they are generally hostile to unions.


GEO is one big family!

As GEO was getting ready to go on Strike in 2018, the former GEO members from the 2009 strike send their support and solidarity.