Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Letter: GEO negotiating new contract with University administration

By Opinion & Editorial Staff

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian)

Dear Campus Community,

The spring semester is here and the graduate workers at the University of Massachusetts have a major battle ahead of us. We will be negotiating a new contract with the administration and we are going to need the support and solidarity of our community. For over 25 years the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) has been fighting to protect the rights of workers and, in the process, improving the learning and working conditions of all those that attend our University. UMass prides itself on being a competitive research and educational institution. And yet, the grad workers that make UMass world class, are expected to  , struggling to pay rent, find food at the Survival Center and work countless hours beyond their contracted time.

As the Co-Chairs of this Union we hear the stories of struggle and survival that our members face on a daily basis. Our people are. They are disregarded by administrators, international students are uncertain about their visa status, Black and Brown people must confront harassment and discrimination routinely and graduate students who are parents have little support in raising their children. These issues highlight the deeply flawed nature of our University structure and underscore a broken administrative system that privileges profit and power over people and fairness. Furthermore, we find ourselves in a particularly difficult time where national politics impact our campus directly. Our members are rightfully concerned about being deported, racially profiled and placed on watch lists. People are worried that their reproductive rights will be taken away. People fear that their healthcare and health insurance will no longer be accessible and affordable. The very idea of having a Union has the potential to be under attack.

For all these and many more reasons, we will sit at the bargaining table ready to defend the hard-earned protections and benefits that this Union has secured over the decades. To ensure that this University lives up to its mission of educating the masses and advancing the disciplines, the workers that make this campus run must live and work with dignity and respect. The real-life implications of dignity and respect should be in the form of fair and livable wages, funding for the summer months, extra pay for extra work, free health insurance with no restrictions, clear policies to respond to acts of racism, sexism and homophobia, student control over student spaces and a campus climate that is family friendly. These demands reflect the social justice principles that have guided GEO. In achieving them we can make our campus a more livable place for all and ensure that our University centers the needs of the marginalized.

The only way we can win a contract that protects our workers is by having the active participation of our members, the support of fellow workers and the solidarity of our community. Bargaining a contract that protects and represents over 2,000 workers will be a hard and complex process, but through an intentional bargaining campaign we can empower workers and change the material conditions of our campus. The improvement of our teachers’ working conditions will positively impact the learning conditions of undergraduates. The improvement of our researchers’ livelihoods will advance all sciences, arts and humanities.

We face uncertain times ahead of us. For that very reason it is vital that we empower workers and students through solidarity, direct action and collective and creative activism. GEO is committed to making UMass a fairer and more just institution that will be a sanctuary for those that need it most.

In solidarity,

Armanthia Duncan & Santiago Vidales
Graduate Employee Organization Co-Chairs


2 Responses to “Letter: GEO negotiating new contract with University administration”

  1. A Rad Grad on February 2nd, 2017 1:56 am

    The GEO is literally the only reason I will not give back to UMass.

    A closed shop, the GEO refuses to let any graduate student choose not to donate to a cause which does not value independent on non-lock-step agreement with them. From their contact, refusing to pay union dues (which union membership is an option, but not paying is not) results in a withholding of pay.

    They are paid to appear before any state agency, be it related or not to their studies, and may bank unused compensated time to do so from year to year. They are furnished with several free parking spaces.

    As for contacted time, their labor agreement already ensures that the time is agreed to upon employment, and any grievances are to be brought to department chairs. Summer months are already covered, by a specific rate and formula. (18.75%).

    GEO members are never required to perform dangerous or harmful work. They, by contact, may demand an ergonomic keyboard, air conditioning, and more. All standard office fare, sure, but they do not have to suffer as they claim. If a GEO member does not have a phone that may call 911, the university may furnish them one be it recovered or new.Gender neutral bathrooms are to be made available at request, and to be constructed if there is not one if it is a timely and fiscally possible option. Reasonable, yes, but hardly the suffering the authors of this claim.

    Each year a GEO member receives a 3.5% stipden increase, above the 2% national average in salary gains, and above the 1.93 percent average increase for their fellow state employees. A more than fair salary the masses receive, especially those of the taxpayers and parents who fund the institution.

    Their tuition and fees are covered outright. A free degree, as part of their compensation.Hardly symptomatic of a university that values profit over people.

    Any additional fees cannot be imposed on graduate students. Once again, the GEO will place the burden on the undergraduates, state, and anyone but themselves. And again, profit over people?

    Graduate students may take vacation at any time, provided it is approved by the department head. No limits, except for those in certain select departments. Additional time off is allowed for religious observance, in addition to vacation and holidays. Again, profit over people? Truly looking out for the undergrads I see.

    $30,000 a year for childcare is available to the GEO, perhaps they may take initiative themselves and hire a teacher to provide childcare? Perhaps the best point in this article, but a “give us more cash” option is selfish, and places a financial burden on the state, and families, rather than using a solution such as opening a childcare center on campus with their funding.

    As for free health insurance? I’m for socialized healthcare, but this insufferable claim that their healthcare is burdensome relative to any other GEO employee, or other employee for that matter is laughable and outright false.

    10 dollar copays for PCP, 100 percent covered for in network and 80% for OON.
    20 dollars for most any specialists, then 100 percent coverage.

    The highest deductible for the health insurance is $100 for the emergency room.

    This is the same GEO which demanded use of the undergraduate gym without contributing a single dime. THe same GEO which supported my TA’s making political statements in non-political classrooms, wasting my money that I paid (not the taxpayer, not my folks) to learn. The same GEO which requires all graduate students to sign FERPA waivers so they may profit from the backs of the people.

    Unions are great, but they need reason and balance. The UMass GEO displayed none of this since I graduated a decade ago, and consistently disappoints me. No longer are they balancing the dignity with the workers with the demands of a public servant (a job which they themselves chose) but are making a grab for more benefits during a time of uncertainty. The fiasco in Washington has yet to fully unfold, but regardless of your political viewpoints, the time of uncertainty is to protect what is won and work with your neighbors, not to tax them.

    Hey-ho, the GEO has got to go.

  2. Tawana on February 2nd, 2017 12:55 pm

    @ Rad Grad, Amen. I was in ResLife and an unwilling member of the GEO. Their mindset was mind boggling.

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