Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Graduate Employee Organization and UMass administrators meet to talk about late pay issues

By Serena McMahon

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Patrick Hoff/Daily Collegian

(Patrick Hoff/Daily Collegian)

One month after initially meeting about the University of Massachusetts’ failure to pay graduate students on time, UMass administrators and seven representatives from the Graduate Employee Organization sat down again Friday to continue to work toward resolving the issue of late pay for employees.

In an hour long back and forth, administration yielded a number of promises, but no set deadlines to the dismay of GEO.

John McCarthy, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the graduate school, and Katherine Newman, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, laid out a plan consisting of the development of an electronic version of graduate student employee paperwork, a better alert system for late pay, electronic processing in human resources and improving overall relations and communication with GEO.

McCarthy also said setting an earlier deadline for graduate student employee’s paperwork would allow human resources more time to process payroll.

The dean wants to pilot the electronic processing of graduate student employee paperwork this upcoming spring semester in certain departments, in order to work out any problems before the larger influx during fall semester. He provided no information on the exact date the pilot would begin.

“If there are any problems, they will emerge during the pilot phase in the spring”, McCarthy said, adding that he wants human resources to start keeping closer tabs on graduate student employees payrolls.

Eleven departments were chosen to partake in the pilot phase, including a handful of larger departments such as the College of Education, the Isenberg School of Management and the Computer Science department.

GEO Mobilization Coordinator Avery Fürst said that GEO believes late pay has been a recurring issue because  human resources is understaffed, specifically when the time comes to process payroll.

“It’s hard for us to think this work can be done by current staff,” Fürst said.  “GEO presence needs to be in every step of this process.”

Fürst added that institutional accountability and respect for workers was a main concern of GEO in continuing the process to fix relations between GEO and the University.

During the meeting, GEO took time to regroup before coming back to Newman and McCarthy with questions about the structure of the electronic processing and the accountability of the pilot run next semester.

McCarthy did not respond to GEO’s follow-up inquiries with specific details.  He said he didn’t know of an exact date he would get back to GEO with answers, and still had to speak with UMass’ human resource director before addressing GEO again.

“This was just another example of a university in the United States not being democratic” said Bilgesu Sumer, a graduate student in political science, after the meeting.

Sumer said she was disappointed with the lack of direct answers to GEO’s questions, adding that the structure of the University as it stands is not meeting the students’ needs.

GEO union organizer and servicing Representative Anais Surkin said that the next steps for GEO include a meeting with the Susan Chinman, assistant dean of the graduate school, about a grievance GEO filed  claiming that the University violated their contract.  The meeting has not yet been set, but GEO is aiming for a meeting in early December.

Additionally, Surkin said GEO will continue escalating the pressure on administration.

“We make change by leveraging our power and forcing them to involve us in the process, forcing them to have these penalties, and forcing them to respond”, she said.

GEO received official word from the University on Nov. 2 that 403 graduate student employees were not paid by UMass on the first payday of the semester.

Serena McMahon can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @serenaamcmahon.

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Serena McMahon, Social Media Coordinator
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