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Graduate Employees Organization v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board

June 30, 2000

GRADUATE EMPLOYEES ORGANIZATION, IFT/AFT, AFL-CIO, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
ILLINOIS EDUCATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, GERALD E. BERENDT, MARY ANN LOUDERBACK, MICHAEL J. GAVIN; BOARD OF TRUSTEES/UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN; GOVERNOR JIM EDGAR, JUDITH ANN CALDER, WILLIAM D. ENGELBRECHT, JEFFREY GINDORF, SUSAN L. GRAVENHORST, THOMAS R. LAMONT, ADA N. LOPEZ, MARTHA R. O'MALLEY, ROGER L. PLUMMER AND JUDITH R. REESE, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Petition for Direct Review of Order of Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board No. 96-RC-0013-S

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Theis

Petitioner Graduate Employees Organization, IFT/AFT, AFL-CIO, petitions for direct review from an opinion and order of respondent Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB), which dismissed petitioner's petition requesting certification and recognition as the collective bargaining representative for all teaching assistants, graduate assistants and research assistants at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On direct review, petitioner contends that the opinion and order of the IELRB were in error. *fn1 At issue is whether teaching assistants, graduate assistants and research assistants, who are seeking to organize, are "educational employees" who are authorized to organize or "students" who are precluded from organizing. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (Act) (115 ILCS 5/1 et seq. (West 1998)) was enacted by our General Assembly in 1983. Pub. Act 83-1014, eff. January 1, 1984. The Act, together with the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/1 et seq. (West 1998)), represents "the first comprehensive statutory regulation of public sector collective bargaining in Illinois history." M. Malin, Implementing the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, 61 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 101, 101 (1985). Indeed, prior to the Act's passage, Illinois collective bargaining law was "chaotic." 61 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. at 123. To be sure, public education employees had a constitutional right to unionize. McLaughlin v. Tilendis, 398 F.2d 287, 288 (7th Cir. 1968); see Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 534, 89 L. Ed. 430, 442, 65 S. Ct. 315, 324 (1945). Employers, however, were under no legal obligation to recognize any such union. 61 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. at 121. Moreover, even if a union was recognized, an employer was still free to rescind such recognition at its discretion. 61 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. at 121. Employers were also free to discriminate between unions and determine which issues would be the subject of collective bargaining and which would not. 61 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. at 121-22. Despite this rather unfavorable state of the law, unions grew quickly in Illinois. 61 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. at 123. So, too, however, did the number of strikes. In fact, strikes became routine. 61 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. at 123.

As a result, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act was enacted to alleviate such disputes and "to promote orderly and constructive relationships between all educational employees and their employers." 115 ILCS 5/1 (West 1998). Indeed, the Act sprang from our General Assembly's conclusion that "[u]nresolved disputes between the educational employees and their employers are injurious to the public *** and *** that adequate means must be established for minimizing them and providing for their resolution." 115 ILCS 5/1 (West 1998). In order to best accomplish the purpose of the Act, "educational employers" were required "to negotiate and bargain with employee organizations representing educational employees and to enter into written agreements evidencing the result of such bargaining." 115 ILCS 5/1 (West 1998). "[P]rocedures to provide for the protection of the rights of the educational employee, the educational employers and the public" were also enacted. 115 ILCS 5/1 (West 1998). Our General Assembly further codified the right of employees to "organize, form, join, or assist in employee organizations or engage in lawful concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining." 115 ILCS 5/3 (West 1998).

However, our General Assembly did not intend for all employees to enjoy such rights. Only "educational employees," as that term is defined within section 2(b) of the Act, were entitled to organize. Certain employees, although employed by "educational employers," were expressly denied the right to organize. Those employees were defined within section 2(b) of the Act to include "supervisors, managerial, confidential, short term employees, student[s], and part-time academic employees of community colleges employed full or part time by an educational employer." 115 ILCS 5/2(b) (West 1998).

On April 15, 1996, petitioner filed a petition with the IELRB requesting certification and recognition as the collective bargaining representative for all teaching assistants, graduate assistants and research assistants at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuant to section 7(c) of the Act. 115 ILCS 5/7(c) (West 1998). Following a series of evidentiary hearings, an administrative law judge concluded that teaching assistants, graduate assistants and research assistants were "student[s]" as that term was used within section 2(b) of the Act and, therefore, precluded from organizing in such a manner.

Petitioner filed exceptions to the recommended decision and order of the administrative law judge. After reviewing the recommended decision and order of the administrative law judge, as well as the exceptions filed by petitioner, the IELRB made the following findings of fact.

The University of Illinois enrolls approximately 9,000 graduate students at its Urbana-Champaign campus. Of those 9,000 graduate students, about 6,000, or two-thirds, hold one or more teaching, graduate or research assistantships. As compensation, assistants receive a monthly stipend and their tuition and fees are waived. With some exceptions, to be eligible for an assistantship, an individual must be admitted and enrolled as a student. Generally, graduate students obtain assistantships by applying and being accepted into particular programs at the University. An admissions committee then attempts to match the interests and qualifications of graduate students with available positions. However, the procedure is not uniform and for some positions students are required to interview or submit a résumé.

There is no uniformity between assistantship positions. Some assistantships are for a period of one semester, while others may be for a period of up to one year. Some assistants are required to work 10 hours per week, while others are required to work more. Moreover, there is no uniformity in the level of responsibility, independence, supervision, and training associated with an assistantship.

Generally, teaching assistants either teach classes to undergraduate students or assist faculty with discussion groups, laboratory exercises and student assignments. Although some teaching assistants work in areas related to their field of study, others do not.

The duties of graduate assistants range from answering telephones to arranging research symposia. At times, their work is related to their studies; at other times, it is not.

Research assistants conduct experiments, analyze data and present findings in publications or dissertations. Additionally, research assistants assist faculty in conducting studies. Usually the work of a research assistant is related to his or her field of study, although that is not always the case.

After considering the parties' arguments, the IELRB rejected the interpretation of the term "student[s]" employed by the administrative law judge, which equated enrollment with student status. The IELRB disagreed, finding the administrative law judge's analysis too simplistic. A majority of the IELRB employed what may be termed the "significant connection" test, concluding that, if an assistantship held by a graduate student is significantly connected to his or her status as a student, then he or she is a "student" within the meaning of section 2(b) of the Act and, thus, precluded from organizing. Applying this test, the IELRB reasoned that, because all assistantships are a form of financial aid and because financial aid is given only to students, there is a significant connection between employment as a teaching assistant, graduate assistant or research assistant and the student status of the graduate students holding those assistantships. Accordingly, the ...


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