Grad students gain new
bargaining rights    
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New law defines role of teaching assistants

[OCT. 16, 2004]  SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation Wednesday enabling graduate teaching assistants at public universities to organize for purposes of collective bargaining.

"This law closes a loophole created by a federal ruling that students do not have bargaining rights," Gov. Blagojevich said. "Clearly, graduate students who spend countless hours each week teaching undergraduate courses, grading papers and preparing for classes are engaged in instructional activities that qualify them as employees. This law now recognizes that status and gives them the rights that all employees of public institutions deserve."

The law, sponsored by Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago, and Rep. Naomi D. Jakobsson, D-Urbana, distinguishes between graduate students whose primary role is either research or pre-professional work and those who teach. The former are regarded as students who are not eligible to form bargaining units under the law. Teaching assistants, on the other hand, are considered university employees under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act and can organize for collective bargaining.

In July, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that universities are not required to bargain with graduate-student unions.

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"I am pleased that this important legislation will be law. Teaching assistants play such vital roles within the university system, and now they will be treated fairly and given the rights they deserve," said Sen. Ronen.

"I have a personal stake in the professional environment for the employees at the U of I," said Rep. Jakobsson. "I am committed to improving the professional conditions for members of the Graduate Employee Organization, and this law is a step in the right direction. I will continue to stand up for the rights of our graduate employees at the University of Illinois."

The legislation, Senate Bill 1070, is effective immediately.

[News release from the governor's office]

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