Letter: No more working poverty; workers demand dignified raises

By Opinion & Editorial Staff

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Chancellor Subbaswamy,

It is clear that you continue to ensure that graduate workers at the University of Massachusetts must take an “oath of poverty.” The Graduate Employee Organization (GEO), a labor union of graduate student workers here at UMass, has proposed an 18 percent wage increase over the next three years to ensure our members can afford housing in the Valley, support their families and live with dignity and respect.

UMass has yet to provide us with a substantial wage increase proposal which will provide the kind of material changes our members need to make it through grad school. Your economic package for our teachers, researchers and residential staff is offensive, and your priorities for our campus are shameful. As the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported on September 7, 2017, Athletic Director Ryan Bamford’s newest contract ensures that he will receive the following: a base salary raise to $300,000, retention bonuses of $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 and $25,000 over the next four years, a $12,000 car allowance and a $7,500 country club membership.

The news of Bamford’s new contract makes it clear that your rhetoric of social justice, diversity, inclusion and living up to our university’s radical tradition is hollow and self-serving. Unfortunately, this is not surprising given that the exploitative actions of your administration speak louder than your words of supposed solidarity.

Extravagant salaries for administrators, country club memberships and your apparent disregard for our wellbeing signal how out of touch you and your administration are. It shows you value the athletic department more than your students and those who teach them. However, you still have a chance to remedy this situation. Instruct your negotiators to bargain in good faith with GEO and ensure that “oaths of poverty” are no longer the UMass standard. Show us your leadership by honoring the work that we do.

Our members are tired of working long hours for low pay. We will no longer take your abuse and disregard. We demand that you bargain fairly, timely, respectfully and with our dignity in mind. We cannot accept these poverty salaries you are offering our workers; the people that make UMass work deserve the benefits and protections that you give yourself and your athletic director. We demand that you stop undermining working people. The time has come to face the facts. Is UMass an institution for the many or a corporation for the enrichment of an elite few?

We will be rallying on Tuesday, October 31 at noon in front of Whitmore as part of our Halloween Rally for a Dignified Wage. We expect concrete answers from you regarding our salaries on Tuesday.

In solidarity,

The GEO Bargaining Committee