Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
Today, Illinois State University and representatives from Service Employees International Union/SEIU Local 73, the union that represents ISU's approximately 400 graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), will meet for our 22nd negotiating session — our first to be conducted under the guidance of an independent mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Let me begin by unequivocally affirming ISU's respect for the important contributions of our graduate teaching assistants, as well as our commitment to the mediation process and to ongoing good-faith negotiations with SEIU Local 73. ISU has and will continue to work diligently to reach a fair and fiscally responsible contract agreement that addresses concerns raised by the SEIU without disruption to the teaching and learning environment at ISU.
As we move into mediated negotiations, we felt it important to inform the entire ISU community that these sessions are occurring and provide historical background as to how we got here. Below is a brief overview of the parties' negotiations timeline, including progress to date, outstanding items and next steps.
ISU's graduate teaching assistants voted to organize in October 2018. In March 2019, SEIU requested dates to commence negotiations. SEIU declined all of the dates proposed by ISU. In October 2019, SEIU proposed dates and we began meeting that month. Since then, we have met six times face-to-face and 15 times via video conference for bargaining sessions with the union.
Under normal circumstances, it is not uncommon for negotiations over the first contract for a new bargaining unit to take more than one year; however, our progress was also impacted by the need to transition the University's academic and administrative operations to an online and/or hybrid format to protect the health and safety of our campus community during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
By mutual agreement, our negotiations with SEIU first focused solely on resolving the non-economic issues identified by the parties before starting discussion of compensation and other economic topics. As a result, through cooperative negotiations, over our first 15 negotiation sessions, ISU and SEIU reached tentative agreements on 17 non-economic proposals.
Consistent with our shared value of ensuring a professional and respectful workplace for all employees, ISU has advocated that this contract, like all other collective bargaining agreements on our campus, include strong anti-discrimination language based on applicable federal and state law, as well as robust and fair resolution processes that allow us to swiftly address any issues of concern. We have also requested no-strike/no-lockout clauses consistent with language in all other University collective bargaining agreements that keep negotiations at the bargaining table and protect students and other employees from interruptions or disruptions to the teaching and learning environment. To date, we have not reached agreement with SEIU on these issues.
However, on October 7, 2020, ISU agreed to the union's request to table these outstanding issues and begin discussions around various economic issues, including pay and tuition waivers. We are committed to ensuring that all graduate teaching assistants are compensated fairly and competitively even as we deal with the ongoing fiscal challenges facing public higher education, as well as the recent adverse economic impact of COVID-19 on our students, faculty, staff, and community. ISU's initial proposal to SEIU offers substantial improvements that would ensure that, by January 1, 2022, the minimum pay at ISU is higher than the average minimum pay for GTAs at peer institutions.
Each GTA's monthly pay varies by department, level of study (i.e. Master's/Ph.D.) and FTE appointment. This monthly pay provides additional compensation to supplement the full-tuition waiver provided by the University (currently valued at $7,265 for in-state and $15,089 for out-of-state students), the student health insurance premium reimbursement of $562 per academic year to GTAs with an appointment of 0.26 FTE or greater and any additional individual financial assistance students secure through grants, loans, and/or scholarships.
Other outstanding economic issues that must be resolved include health care benefits, student fee waivers and expense reimbursement.
While there is much work to be done, we are optimistic about today's session with the federal mediator. We believe that much can be accomplished and resolved through additional dialogue and negotiations. We are hopeful that SEIU joins us in the goal of reaching agreement on the outstanding issues to be resolved and that they will agree to schedule additional sessions with the federal mediator as needed.
We will continue to provide timely updates on the status of negotiations via email and the University website. As always, thank you for your support of Illinois State University.
Larry H. Dietz