Letter: The Graduate Employee Organization wants to empower those who are marginalized

By Opinion & Editorial Staff

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

The Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) is the union that represents and protects grad workers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. For over 25 years, teaching assistants, teaching associates, research assistants, project assistants, assistant residence directors and interns have worked together to ensure that their working and living conditions are protected by a strong contract. This contract, that we will be bargaining again in the coming months, has ensured that grad workers at UMass get paid fair wages, have affordable and accessible health insurance, have access to dental, vision and childcare benefits, have legal protections and remedies against discrimination, harassments and exploitation. And yet our members, like many in our community, still must endure the indignity of food insecurity and lack of affordable housing.

As a social justice organization, we seek to empower the most marginalized among us. We know that grad workers who are parents experience discrimination at the University’s childcare center, and that their on-campus housing is expensive and run-down. We know that students of color, particularly international grads, experience daily harassment and racism at their work and in their community; that they cannot afford to live in Amherst and that without summer funding they find themselves routinely in precarious circumstances. We know that many people have major concerns over their Visa status and their ability to remain in this country and that the University lacks resources to support them.

Our campus has a long way to go to achieve its mission of being welcoming to minority populations. GEO receives numerous grievances (official complaints) regarding sexual violence in the workplace. We have heard repeatedly that the UMass Center for Counseling and Psychological Health is understaffed and desperately needs more Black and brown professionals. We have heard that University Health Services must have better resources for the transgender community, as well as more on-campus resources for women’s and reproductive health.

Twenty-five years of labor activism have taught us that only worker solidarity and campus coalitions can improve the living and working conditions of all people at UMass. We know that a democratic union can empower members to defend their rights and expand their benefits. To ensure that our contract remains strong and that our union grows, GEO members have voted to establish the following guiding principles for our bargaining campaign:

HEALTH CARE: Health care must remain affordable and accessible; it must also be expanded and secured against regressive political visions.

WAGES: Our members will only accept a wage increase significant enough to get them out of poverty.

PROTECTIONS: We will protect the most vulnerable among our members.

ACCOUNTABILITY: We will hold the University accountable to its mission, vision and values of inclusivity, diversity, social justice and progressivism.

GRAD PARENTS: We will ensure that families can remain together through fair wages, fair housing and affordable health insurance.

SOCIAL JUSTICE: We will demand that the university swiftly denounce and penalize any practices of workplace discrimination, harassment or intimidation.

In solidarity,

GEO, UAW 2322