3/12/15 GEO Bargaining Update

Hello GEO members!

The bargaining committee met on Tuesday for the first of two bargaining sessions this week. Management repeatedly refuses to share information with GEO on healthcare that would enable both sides to bargain more fully and effectively over this critical issue. In response, GEO has filed a formal information request to which management is (predictably) dragging their heels to respond. Management thinks that if they drag out negotiations that GEO will get tired and settle for less than what our members deserve. GEO is here to say that management’s strategy will not work; GEO will not be worn down by a petty delay.

On Tuesday, the GEO bargaining committee hand delivered a letter to Chancellor Subbaswamy demanding him to direct his negotiating team to stop these childish games and to bargain in good faith. GEO is giving the administration an opportunity to work with us to correct this situation and get this contract settled in a timely fashion. If GEO doesn’t see significant movement from management at the next bargaining session this Friday, then we will take this as a signal that it is time to escalate our contract campaign.

A contract campaign will not be as effective without the full participation of our members. GEO’s mobilizing force has been canvassing the campus this week, informing members of our bargaining successes and struggles. GEO has several campaign strategies in mind and many different ways for members to show support for GEO and frustration with management. Be on the lookout for days of action and events in the near future!

Here are some of the major issues that GEO has already won:

• All-gender bathrooms all graduate employees are now able to request access to an all-gender bathroom near their place of work (classroom, office space, or otherwise)

• Affirmative action hiring committee: we are pushing the administration to hire more graduate student-workers of color and revise their hiring procedures

• Paid family and medical leave: we got administration to include 40 hours of paid family and medical leave in one of their proposals. This would be on top off our additional time off and vacation time (which is already guaranteed in our contract)

• Out of Pocket Maximum (OOPM): management has stated at the table that they could lower to OOPM from $3,000 to $1,500, but GEO knows we can do better

The chart below illustrates the three biggest proposals left to go: wages, workload and healthcare. We present a side-by-side comparison of our proposals and management’s counter-proposals on these issues. Management’s proposals simply don’t stack up and are not in the best interests of graduate student workers.

Management’s wage proposal does not even begin to keep up with inflation and the rising cost-of-living expenses. This “raise” would keep graduate student employee wages stagnant and would not alleviate the burdens currently faced by our members.

The rampant overwork of our members that happens across all departments is unacceptable and must stop. Management simply refuses to see overwork as an issue.

Co-insurance shifts costs from the plan to our members, to the tune of thousands of dollars per year for our members. UMass admits that co-insurance discourages many members from getting needed health care for themselves and their families. This must stop!

  Union Proposal Admin Proposal
Wages 5% increase per year (15% total over 3 years)  1.5% increase per semester (9% total over 3 years) 
Workload Recognize daily and weekly workload maximums and institute an expedited workload grievance procedure  Do nothing: The Admin believes we are already sufficiently protected 
Healthcare Create co-payment system with dramatically decreased out of pocket maximum (ex :you pay a flat fee of say $25 for your doctor’s visit)  Continue with co-insurance (ex: you pay 15% of whatever your doctor’s visit is going to cost) 

We hope that all of our members have a great Spring Break and we look forward to waging a successful campaign with you when classes resume.

In solidarity,

2/26/15 GEO Bargaining Update

Hello GEO family!

The bargaining update this week focuses on an issue that is near and dear to our hearts: healthcare.

The GEO healthcare proposal is straightforward — we want to eliminate co-insurance and instead have a system of fixed co-payments, and we want to lower the total out-of-pocket costs for our members. We want our members to be able to afford the care that they need, when they need it. Rather than members having to guess the cost of a doctor visit, hospitalization, or diagnostic service, GEO believes that our members should know ahead of time what these costs will be so that members can budget for them.


The management lead negotiator, Susan Chinman, does not believe that GEO members have enough *skin in the game* when it comes to their healthcare, in other words, that members are not paying enough for services. Management is worried that if graduate student employee health care costs go down, then graduate student employees might actually _use_ their benefits. This insulting statement assumes that GEO members are not already invested in their own healthcare, that members are not already paying enormous sums for the care that they need. It also points to a troubling truth: the University knows that the current cost of healthcare is prohibitive. Our members often forego healthcare because they cannot afford it, and management is uninterested in fixing the problem.


GEO proposed a high-level health coverage plan that would keep out-of-pocket costs low and co-payments reasonable. Management responded that they are not interested in a high-level plan. Management is not interested in a mid-level plan. Management has said at the bargaining table that they are only interested in a low-level plan within the platinum range for our members. This attitude is disrespectful to our members and disrespectful to the bargaining process. Management does not value graduate student labor enough to ensure that graduate student employees remain healthy enough to do their jobs.

Despite the frustrating conversations at the table this past Friday, the GEO bargaining team is still giddy over our all-gender bathroom win. Not only will graduate employees be able to access all-gender restrooms, but we also created a process to increase the total number of all-gender restrooms on our campus. The importance of this victory cannot be overstated. Safe and accessible restrooms are a workplace issue, and now, thanks to GEO, management knows it.

In solidarity,

your GEO bargaining team

2/17/15 GEO Bargaining Update

Dear fellow GEO members,

There are many exciting things to report in this member update!

Last week, management disrespectfully and unilaterally cancelled a bargaining session at the last minute, and your elected bargaining team took swift action.  In under nine hours, using word-of-mouth and social media, we mobilized 40 GEO members and supporters, especially undergraduate allies, to stage a sit-in and bargaining teach-in outside of the Dean of the Graduate School’s office.

You can check out photos of the action on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GEOUAW/photos_stream and listen to a WMUA interview with two bargaining committee members here: https://soundcloud.com/wmua-news/graduate-students-push-for-expanded-benefits.

The importance of member mobilization and collective action cannot be overstated. The sit-in put us in a very strong position and during our next bargaining session with administrators on Friday, we won five (!) tentative agreements, bringing our total agreed upon proposals to seven. Reaching these tentative agreements on specific proposals provides us with the building blocks for agreeing on the entire contract and completing negotiations.

In addition to winning proposals that will allow the Union to better service our members, we won a spread-out payment schedule to make it easier for graduate student employees (GSEs) to purchase semester parking passes and we won the right for GSEs to have access to all-gender bathroom facilities near their workspace.

We are particularly excited about this last proposal because it means that UMass Amherst is now the second university in the nation, along with the University of California, to contractually guarantee access to all-gender restrooms for graduate student employees.

We are also very close to reaching agreement on three more proposals including one that will make the processes and criteria for appointment and reappointment procedures more transparent and up-to-date. We have also won the first paid parental leave for graduate student employees. The momentum is really picking up and are excited to continue to make progress toward winning the best contract we can for our membership.

The fight isn’t over, though. There are still many outstanding issues that the bargaining committee continues to push forward. Many of these issues are the “bread and butter” of our contract, including Health Insurance, Wages (including Continuing & Professional Education), and Workload. We are really pushing to lower out-of-pocket costs for healthcare and eliminate co-insurance, fight for higher wages, and to protect our members from being worked beyond their contracted number of hours.

Now more than ever, we need the membership to stay informed and involved in what is happening at the bargaining table. You can do this through attending membership meetings and talking with your department’s Steward. Additionally, members are always welcome to stop by the GEO office, room 201 in the Student Union. To win the best contract we can, we need member support and member shows of strength and solidarity!

To learn about the proposals or to share your own testimonials on the issues, please go to tinyurl.com/GEOBargains.

If you’ve stuck with us this far through the e-mail, congratulations! We told you there were a lot of exciting updates! To close out this e-mail, GEO staff and leadership would like to welcome and congratulate the newly elected members of the Bargaining team:

Stacey Sexton, Higher Education & Public Policy (promoted from alternate to paid);
Matthew Donlevy, English/American Studies (promoted from unpaid to paid);
Alyssa Goldstein, Sociology (new Committee member, unpaid);
Will Syldor, Education (new Committee member, unpaid);
Peter Huntington, Geosciences (new Committee member, alternate);
Zach Kimes, Political Science (new Committee member, alternate);
Kim Sawyer, Labor Studies (new Committee member, alternate)

We look forward to the new insights and energy that you all will bring!

In solidarity,
Your GEO-UAW Bargaining Committee