Letter: GEO negotiating new contract with University administration

By Opinion & Editorial Staff

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