File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 528


Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 12:01:28 -0600 (CST)
Subject: M-I: U. of Illinois GEO legal case



------------------------
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 10:49:53 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Report on GEO Oral Argument


Report on the GEO's Oral Argument

The GEO presented its case in front of the Illinois Educational Labor
Relations Board this past Wednesday in Chicago.  About 15 GEO and IFT people
attended.  A bunch of people in fancy suits were also there.  The case is
known as The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois v. The
Graduate Employees' Organization, but it might be more properly named The
Suits v. The People.

The GEO contingent left the oral argument cautiously pleased that for the
first time our argument appears to be receiving serious consideration,
primarily because the key figure on the three-member Board, Jerry
Berendt, has obviously done his homework, knows the issues and asked a
lot of pointed questions of University counsel Steve Veazy.  Berendt is
the "neutral" person on the Board, while the other two come from
management and labor backgrounds respectively.  He is a law professor at
John Marshall law school in Chicago.  According to an anonymous IFT Board
watcher, "Berendt will be fair until he's told that he can't be."
Governor Edgar appoint s all Board members.

GEO attorney Gil Cornfield emphasized that Nora Crandell's  narrow
interpretation of an ambiguous statutory provision (the "student" (sic)
exclusion has no legislative history and is not defined within the
statute itself) has the effect of denying bargaining rights to a very
large and important class of university workers.  He pointed to the
national trend in grad employee unions and the ever-increasing line of
legal cases supporting their right to exist.  He urged that the hearing
officer's test --whether one has to be technically a "student" in order
to hold an assistantship--is absurd because many ABDs are only titular
students, and non-students can hold the same job as a grad employee and
the university simply re-classifies the job under a new title.  He urged
a test based on whether a grad employee is remunerated for the work.
Thus, grads who work solely for credit would not qualify.  Gil's rebuttal
argument cut to the chase as he asked the Board, "Why are we even here?  Why
doesn't the administration just sit down and talk with the GEO?  Why is
the Chancellor here, and why do all these people (The Suits) keep
repeating how concerned the university is with this case?"  His
answer--because grad employees provide a cheap labor pool that they don't
want to give up.  The ever-present smarmy smiles of The Suits quickly
turned to frowns, then Gil thanked the Board and it was over.  A very nice
move on Gil's part.

Earlier, Berendt had pushed Gil on several points, but mostly regarding
the ultimate issue of who should be in the bargaining unit, rather than
whether it should exist.  His persistent and pointed questions to Steve
Veazy had more to do with the former issue.  Berendt asked about grad
employees who hold jobs unrelated to their area of study, and
specifically about GAs who do clerical type work.  He pointed out that
lecturers do the same work as TAs but are considered employees.  And
generally he pushed Veazy into corners he was unable to get out of.
Veazy kept returning to the argument that "gee whiz, sure there's gonna
be some exceptions out there," and it sounded flat and evasive.

The other two "outside" attorneys had mixed results.  The attorney from
Northern Illinois was an embarrassment--he tried to impress the Board by
announcing that he had brought some administrators from Northern, and even
a labor historian!  Ted Clark was as arrogant as you might expect a lead
attorney from Seyfarth and Shaw to be (an AFL-CIO researcher recently
described that firm as the "anti-christ" because of their unethical
union-busting tactics).  Clark was allegedly representing the National
Public Employees Labor Relations Association, rather than Seyfarth and
Shaw, who are on permanent retainer with the University of Illinois for
all of their union-busting needs (we have the NPELRA's strike-busting
manual in the office if anyone is interested).  He talked mainly of being
present at several big important meetings with lots of big important
(excuse me, "EMINENT") people in 1984 when the IELRA was being drafted,
and says that no one even considered including graduate employees under
the Act.  It's not clear if Berendt found this convincing or not.  Berendt
did quip later during Gil's rebuttal that he didn't presume to know what
was in the mind of a particular professor involved with the drafting
process.

We could have a decision by January or February.  Let's see if Chairman
Berendt has the backbone to do the right thing.

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