GEO: Letter to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy

If the committee will not listen, we call on the Chancellor to respond


(Jenny Tamkin/ Daily Collegian)

By Letter to the Editor

Dear Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy,

As you know, the Graduate Employee Organization has been negotiating our successor collective bargaining agreement with the University of Massachusetts for a year. Our carefully conceived and costed proposals have been met with a lack of interest and disrespect. What has been occurring at the bargaining table is less of a negotiation and more of the GEO navigating the bumbling lack of competency of a University committee that clearly does not want to be there. The University has submitted proposals which seem hastily put together and were riddled with false information. Your bargaining team has responded in ways that indicate a stark misunderstanding of how graduate work is done. GEO has found itself having to explain to the University bargaining team how the University operates.

This has gone on long enough. Please empower your negotiators, especially Brian Harrington, to agree to the following proposals:

Currently, graduate students pay back an average of six percent of their salary to the University in fees every year. Given our already limited income and the high cost of living on the campus or anywhere near the University, the unusually high fees are tantamount to wage theft. Further, the fees we pay do not directly benefit us, but rather operate as a means of generating revenue from a group that is already limping from paycheck to paycheck. Waive the graduate service fee and engineering fee for graduate workers or reduce them to a reasonable amount relative to graduate student worker income.

Many graduate students survive solely on their graduate student worker income, especially international students who are legally prohibited from working outside of the University. We will not stand by while our fellow workers are subjected to poverty wages in exchange for their labor and contributions as educators. Inflation is projected to increase between now and our contract renewal in 2020. Give GEO members an 18 percent wage increase over three years to compensate for inflation and poverty.

The University misclassified graduate student workers on fellowships and grants as “non-working fellows,” which has denied them access to GEO benefits and protections. Our contract already includes workers (Research Assistants) whose job descriptions mirror that of “non-protected fellows.” Recognize that “non-protected fellows” are already in the GEO bargaining unit.

We need metrics to hold the University accountable for hiring discrimination and stronger support for international graduate students who encounter employment and immigration issues.  Agree to implement job-seeking support and stable employment for graduate students who are in danger of becoming undocumented. Further, fully fund immigration legal specialists for international graduate student workers.

For years, graduate worker parents have applied for the childcare reimbursement benefit and veryfew receive a full reimbursement, while most get very little or are completely denied due to insufficient funds allocated to the Health and Welfare Trust by the University. We need to reconcile family and professional lives and support graduate workers with children, so they can finish their degree in a timely manner.  Reconsider your position and fully fund childcare through the trust.

We proposed that the University cover 100 percent of the premium for family health insurance, and the University’s response was 95 percent. However, students with families also need to pay for individual health insurance, essentially paying twice. Waive the family health insurance premium, and stop double-charging graduate student families who are already struggling to get by.

Many graduate workers, especially those in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, are required to work more hours than they are contracted for and don’t get the time off they are entitled to. Holding faculty accountable for honoring our contract and not penalizing graduate students for using their contractually-protected vacation time is something that should already be a standard practice of the University. This should not need to be bargained over. Graduate workers should enjoy the same benefits you (the Chancellor) and your staff enjoy. Pay graduate workers for their unused vacation at the close of their contract.

UMass works because we do. We need your help if the University’s bargaining team is going to take these proposals seriously and bring us closer to final negotiations. We are asking for a contract that keeps us working and thriving on campus.


GEO Staff and Leadership