Graduate Employee Organization remains in a bargaining standstill

UMass Boston’s Graduate Employees Organization logo.

UMass Boston’s Graduate Employee Organization remains deadlocked in a drawn-out and intense bargaining process with the university for improved compensation, job security and more general support for GEO members. Since last speaking with The Mass Media in December, a representative from the GEO maintains that little to no progress has been made in the bargaining efforts.

The GEO and representatives from the university conducted bargaining meetings over the winter break; their most recent meeting occurred on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The meeting was held remotely; according to a GEO member, the university has been hesitant to hold in-person meetings.

According to the GEO, the university has cited the winter break and inclement weather as reasons to conduct such meetings remotely, while the GEO believes administration wants to avoid graduate student protests. 

The GEO is frustrated that bargaining meetings are not being held in-person when graduate employees are still expected to teach and attend classes in person. 

At the Feb. 1 bargaining session, the GEO attempted to gather information from the university regarding the graduate studies program's financial situation, but reported that they felt the university was hesitant to give straight answers about how much certain proposals cost. GEO members are becoming increasingly frustrated with this lack of transparency, and the GEO opines that the university is attempting to stall the negotiations.  

The GEO is also surrounded by other labor organizations who have made agreements with the university, such as the Faculty Staff Union. Some are soon to make agreements, such as the Professional Staff Union. The GEO is frustrated that they seem to come last at an institution that claims to put students first, and wants to know when it will be their turn for serious progress to be made.

Jeffrey Melnick, an American Studies professor at UMass Boston and the Communications Director for the FSU, shared some of the frustration the GEO continues to feel while observing the FSU negotiations earlier last year.

“Bargaining went for months and months like dead sound, nothing,” said Melnick. “Like we kept making proposals, they would be like, ‘okay we’ll get back to you,’ they’d show up at the next session and almost immediately go into caucus [ . . .] which means you go into a room of your own with just your side to discuss it. Which to me, felt like, ‘oh, they hadn’t done the homework.’”

Despite not being part of the GEO, Melnick follows their affairs as closely as he can by reading the GEO’s newsletter and by talking to members. Melnick is also particularly close to the cause as his daughter was involved in the strike at Columbia University as a graduate worker.

“We’re a relatively poor public university, so I’m not expecting our administration to come with offers like Columbia, or like Harvard—we know that’s not gonna happen,” said Melnick. “But if you look at just the brass tacks of what our grad workers get paid—in Boston, one of the most expensive cities in the United States—versus what grad workers are getting paid at other major research universities, it’s just scandalous.”

The GEO feels that these negotiation processes need not take so long; so far, it has taken more than a year to negotiate a fair compensation package. The GEO requested a 4 percent wage increase, and was insulted by the university’s offer of a 1.5 percent increase. 

“They were so interested in settling with our union, settling with the Department Chair’s Union—who I also think have a tentative agreement with the Professional Staff Union, who I think either have an agreement or are close to an agreement—but with the grad workers [...] they’re not acting like they care,” said Melnick. “And I mean that in both ways. They’re not acting like they care to just get done for everybody’s sake, and they’re not acting like they have concern for these people who make the university run.”

The GEO is made up of over 700 graduate students, and is affiliated with the national union United Auto Workers Local 1596. Graduate students involved in the GEO aid in research and teaching, teach their own classes, and represent the university at scholarly events.

“I just think [the] GEO—they’re just such great, wonderful, hard-working people,” said Melnick. “They’re not asking for a lot; they’re not asking for anything fancy. They’re not asking for a party, they’re not asking for a big spring fling concert, headliners—they’re just asking for really basic health, welfare, just basic stuff. And our admin just doesn’t seem to care.”

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.

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