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

GEO Election: Candidate Statements

Member Mobilization Coordinator Candidate:

Avery Fürst

Labor Studies

GEO Bargaining team member

Most of us will need to work for money (wages) in our life. Therefore, I see being active in one’s union as the most important professional development that anyone can take part in. Knowing how to stand up for ourselves, and by extension everyone else at our workplace, is paramount not only for our time at UMass but in any job we ever work. How else will we work good jobs? Only through standing together -when someone is being mistreated, overworked, discriminated against, and when we think an improvement needs to be made to our working conditions – can we address these issues and make our working lives better and more worthwhile. As a result, both while on the organizing committee last year and in my current position on the bargaining committee I am always thinking about how we can connect to members to each other and to the union more effectively. Currently, I am having members talk to other members about how their work is going, hear members’ concerns, give bargaining updates, and invite members to events. I see organized communication between members as central to graduate student-workers feeling more connected both to each other and to their union. Secondly, I am in the process of putting together trainings this semester for GEO members so that more members know their protected labor rights and how to advocate for themselves and others at work. Thirdly, I plan to organize more social events as yet another way for us to feel more connected to each other and more able to stand up for ourselves at work. Most importantly, these connections come in handy when graduate student-workers need to come together and push for changes at the university.

Member Mobilization Coordinator Candidate:

Ian Rhodewalt

Ian Rhodewalt is an educator and organizer who has experience mobilizing communities in a number of different areas. As an undergraduate, he did a lot of campus organizing work around prison justice issues, as well as anti-death penalty work. Ian is passionate about racial justice coalition building and is eager to bring to the position of mobilization coordinator an anti-racist framework. He has worked as a community organizer with the NAACP in Georgia working with their Justice for Troy Davis campaign. Ian has worked with grassroots electoral and campaign organizing and Get Out the Vote drives in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts. Before coming to UMASS, Ian lived and worked in the West Bank as an educator and organizer, and is now pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Justice Education. He has also been active in recent years in organizing against the NYPD Stop and Frisk policy. Ian is very passionate about labor politics, and is excited to have the possibility of working closely to actively engage the GEO membership as the mobilization coordinator, especially in this year of contract bargaining.

Steering Committee Member-at-Large Candidate:

Dan Lynch

A former commercial fisherman and 5th year graduate student in anthropology. His academic work at UMass concerns understanding violence against immigrants and religious groups through the study of material remains and historic erasures of violence across time and space. Dan is your Steering Committee At-Large candidate.