Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Graduate Employee Organization protests the rising cost of living

Roughly 70 GEO members and supporters marched to Whitmore to voice new bargaining agreements with the University
Daily Collegian (2023)
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

*Editor’s note: Olivia Capriotti is an on-campus Peer Mentor, a job protected by RAPMU. RAPMU and GEO are both units underneath UAW Local 2322, but each have different contracts.

The University of Massachusetts Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) hosted their “Cost of Living” rally in front of the Student Union on Sept. 15, prior to their third bargaining session with administration on Sept. 25.

The rally lasted for about an hour, where nearly 70 students gathered before marching to Whitmore Administration Building chanting in unison “UMass has got to go!”

GEO co-chairs Hannah Ku and Ragini Jha stood at the front of the crowd, leading the march. Several students wore red in support and held adorning signs and posters.

“Are we expected to survive and work in the conditions that UMass offers us?” Ku asked the crowd.

Ku and Jha addressed GEO’s concerns regarding the cost-of-living increase in Amherst, emphasizing the difficulty to afford housing and additional living costs. Part of GEO’s negotiations include a $400 monthly stipend to support housing.

“We know that the University would be nothing without our work,” Jha said.

On GEO’s Instagram they said that their recent bargaining session with administration was “contentious,” indicating the agreement has not yet been reached.

GEO’s contract expired at the end of August, and the union now has to bargain with the University for a new contract. According to GEO member Thomas Morrison, the University said the old contract was “fine as is,” in response to GEO’s requested changes.

Daily Collegian(2023) (Kalina Kornacki)

Some of these requested changes include increased protections against discrimination, sexual harassment and automatic GEO-protected positions for master’s students.

In an email statement, University spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said that the availability of affordable housing and cost-of-living are important concerns for the University.

Blaguszewski added that the University’s bargaining team is working on a new collective agreement that covers wages and working conditions for graduate employees and holds frequent labor-management meetings with GEO leaders.

GEO’s expired contract still runs due to the Evergreen Clause, which allows a contract to self-renew unless either party notifies the other of intention not to renew.

It’s important that the voices of GEO are heard by the University and their proposed contract updates are recognized, Ku said.

The University increased graduate student health insurance premiums without notifying GEO prior. GEO filed an unfair labor practice charge to demand a reversal of this increase.

Undergraduate students were also in support of the rally, such as senior economics major Ava Hawkes.

“I think that the demands and the interests of GEO are the demands of the general student body when it comes to the cost of living,” Hawkes said.

Outside of Whitmore, economics graduate student Shady Lawendy said he feels the University sees graduate students as a “cost and “liability.”

“We are an investment for this school,” Lawendy added. “We make this place work.”

GEO is a unit of the Local 2322 United Auto Workers (UAW). UAW went on national strike the morning of Sept. 15th.

“We’re all one fight, and we’re all engaged together of the working class for culture and economic justice…I’m really proud to be here, and we’re going to fight and we’re going to win,” UAW Local 2322 President Patrick Burke said.

Established at UMass in 1991, GEO was one of the first graduate unions in the country. In the past, GEO

Daily Collegian(2023) (Kalina Kornacki)

fought for increased wages for graduate employees, improved working conditions and established the Health and Welfare Trust Fund.

Following the testimonies, the crowd gathered in Chancellor Javier Reyes’ office and the surrounding hallway to request a meeting, but they were denied on the spot due to the Chancellor being out of office.

Leaving the office and down the ramp of Whitmore, students chanted “We’ll be back!”

GEO will hold a town hall-style meeting next week on Oct. 5, and their upcoming bargaining session is on Oct. 16.

Olivia Capriotti can be reached at [email protected] and Grace Lee can be reached at [email protected].

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