UMass Boston’s Graduate Employee Organization is currently in contentious, collective bargaining with a team from the university’s Human Resources department. The Human Resources team represents the university and the Board of Trustees. As of now, the GEO is working under a contract that has been expired since June, and is fighting to improve their compensation and benefits.
According to a letter shared with the Mass Media by a rank-and-file member of the GEO, the organization is “the union that represents graduate student employees on campus. We assist research and teaching, teach our own classes, represent the institution at scholarly events, and support the mission of the university in many other ways.”
The union is made up of over 700 graduate students, and is affiliated with the national union, UAW.
The letter also states that currently, the union members’ paychecks are “too low to pay rent, buy groceries, pay for transportation, and get adequate healthcare when needed,” and asserts that UMass Boston is currently paying this group of graduate student workers “the lowest wages in the region.”
The GEO submitted their financial proposal in March, and did not hear back from the university regarding a financial proposal until Nov. 30.
An email from the GEO shared with the Mass Media states: “It took the university forty six weeks to get us financial proposals, and they have come with little more than a slap to the face. The university's ‘starting point’ for financials is a 1.5 percent wage increase for the 21-22 and 22-23 year. No health insurance increase.”
The GEO had held a protest in the weeks prior; one sign read, “a food bank is not an employee benefit,” reflecting the fact that many GEO members report that they are food insecure and must turn to U-Access for assistance.
A member of the GEO stated that the organization is fighting to improve conditions for graduate student employees in three ways.
Firstly, the GEO is looking to improve basic compensation and benefits to make the university more competitive. This includes being granted a cost of living raise.
Secondly, the GEO is requesting summer protection. During the summer, GEO members are hired on an hourly basis, rather than being considered graduate student employees. During this period, GEO members are not protected from discrimination or layoffs.
Thirdly, the GEO is requesting support for graduate student employees with specific needs, such as student employees with families. Thus, the GEO is requesting childcare and elder care from the university, that the university set up an emergency medical fund, a transportation fund, and support for research and spending on campus for tasks such as printing.
A member of the GEO also expressed disappointment with the university’s lack of recognition for graduate student employees during the pandemic. The member stated that the employees had bent over backwards to shift to the remote modality, and in response, heard from the university that they were not worth paying more.
According to a member of the GEO, the organization believes the manner in which this bargaining is taking place is flawed, and many members of the GEO feel insulted in matters regarding the negotiations, as well as in how graduate student employees are treated in general at the university.
An email from the GEO forwarded to the Mass Media states: “The messaging from UMass Boston is that we are anti-racist, that we promote health, that we're here for equity, and that we're Boston's research university. The actions from UMass Boston is that there is someone at the top who needs to have their wallet padded out, and the rest of us can suffer.”
A GEO member also stated that many members of the organization are reluctant to speak out regarding their concerns due to mild forms of retaliation from the university. This member emphasized that GEO members do not believe the university is bad, but simply believe that it can do better.
If you are a graduate student who would like to share your experience at the university with the Mass Media, please contact the author at Abigail.Basile001@umb.edu.