GEO Elections – Candidate Statements

Co-Chair Candidates

Anais Nastassja Surkin

Hi GEO family!!

My name is Anais.  I am a student in Social Justice Education and Labor Studies. Last year I served as GEO grievance coordinator and this year as co-chair; I also serve on Bargaining Committee and Joint Council. Before UMass, I worked with LGBTQ, sex worker, and immigrant communities in NYC resisting personal and political violence. At UMass I have been a research assistant and teaching associate. I also mentor facilitators of anti-oppression workshops.

I have an extensive background in organizing, advocacy, education and social justice work and have spent the past two years tirelessly handling grievances, negotiating with administrators, doing internal mobilization work and building coalitions. I have held to last year’s campaign promise of building an organized social justice union by collaborating with other groups on campus. This year we organized campus events including teach-ins and speakers like Cece McDonald– and we sent three busses to the Millions March Day of Anger in NYC! I have also worked to deepen relationships with leaders and rank & file members of other graduate employee unions in building the student-worker labor movement. These are all examples of how I am working to strengthen and build coalitions towards democratic equitable universities as linked to the broader movement for global social, political, environmental and economic justice. I strongly believe that decision-making power at universities should be shared between students and workers.

I also strongly believe in rank & file union governance and have worked to increase transparency and democracy within GEO. Our union has a long history of prioritizing social justice, which reflects the diverse identities of our membership. Every day I work hard to build a union that centers the most marginalized among us and incorporates diverse voices, while cultivating solidarity among our members.

Since I have been handling grievances for two years now, I have only grown in my ability to win justice and organize with you. Once we ratify our new contract, I plan to learn about what YOUR priorities are for the union and what changes you want to see in your union. This year I will train stewards and systematically ramp up our contract enforcement in the areas that are most important to you. I will to prioritize rank & file leadership development, focusing on mobilization and education, by strengthening our committees and prioritizing member-driven, democratic and participatory processes.

It is an honor to hold leadership positions in our great union, yet there is still so much work to do. I believe that it is GEO’s charge to play a vital role in not only defending our rights as workers but also shaping the future of the University in resistance to privatization and exploitation. Through member-driven organizing and strong coalitions, we can continue to resist neoliberalism and oppression. We deserve social and economic justice. I will listen to you deeply and speak truth to power.  I would be honored to have your vote for GEO-UAW2322 co-chair 2015-2016 so that I can continue to work for you.

Aaron Foote

My name is Aaron Foote and I am a working class union member who will work for you! I was born in Flint, Michigan, home of the 1936 Sit-Down strikes that turned the then diffuse and powerless UAW locals into a strong unified union. My grandfather was a member of the UAW, my mother a member of the UFCW, and my father is a Teamster. I come from a long line of talented hard-working people that have also struggled to be included in their own unions. My grandfather worked at Chevrolet Forge in Detroit, Michigan, an overwhelmingly black shop with the worst working conditions of any job General Motors offered at the time. He struggled to get his union to represent him and his fellow workers who were excluded from jobs that were dominated by white workers. It was also commonplace for black workers to be excluded from being hired even when there were worker shortages across the industry. His struggle made him resent his union, and to be for good reason: It simply did not work for him. Whether it is that he and his black peers were the last ones hired and the first ones fired, or his inability to be considered for skilled trades positions because of his skin color, his union never fought to include him. Never did the UAW reach across racial lines and demand that shops include black workers on an equal footing with whites. This exclusion altered his perception of his union. The UAW never became a silver lining in a segregated world; it never gave him hope towards a more inclusive future.  My story, and many of yours draw parallels to my grandfathers. Current GEO leadership claims to represent us, but I know from conversations with many of you that it does not. They don’t reach out to assess our needs. They don’t include us in their political agendas. They don’t even know who we are. I am running for Co-chair of GEO to change this, to fight for marginalized workers on this campus, to get to know all of the amazing people who make this great university work, and to make sure this union does not continue in the footsteps of my late grandfathers’ union. Together, we must put away the traditions of old and work to build a more inclusive union for the future.

If I am elected Co-Chair of GEO, I will work to meet all of your needs, without regard to the kind of experiences you have had with GEO in the past. I promise to dispose of the stereotype that graduate students in the sciences don’t care about our union. I promise to work with all of you who are eager to change the culture of GEO and the UAW, to build a strong community that is ready to meet any challenge University administration throws at us. Together, we are strong. Together, we will win.

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Santiago Vidales

Dear GEO members,

My name is Santiago Vidales and I am getting my PhD in Latin American and US Latina/o Literature and have taught in the Comparative Literature and the Spanish and Portuguese Programs. I am running for GEO Co-Chair and would like to introduce myself to you and ask for your vote and support. Since 2011, I have been a loud and proud member of our Union by holding several elected positions such as Steward, Assembly Chair and Bargaining Committee member. Through my Union involvement, I have been privileged to participate in anti-racism activism on campus and in the Valley. While working for the Bargaining Committee, I deepened my understanding of our contract, engaged the membership and stood up to administrators when they failed to respect our rights as workers. GEO has been a very important part of my University life and I hope to give back to my Union and my community.

I am running for Co-Chair because I can help GEO build upon its tradition of social justice activism, strong contract enforcement and community coalition building. To do this I would like to focus on the following key points:

  1. GEO leadership must ensure that we are using our contract to its fullest degree. We have achieved big wins at the Bargaining table, such as ensuring all-gender bathrooms for grad workers, but it is up to us to enforce these victories. I believe that a strong contract is most useful if we understand its full capacity and enforce all of its protections, committees and memorandums.
  2. GEO must strive to be a safe space for all people, especially marginalized and minoritized populations. A Union that rejects and actively combats racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and classism will always be on the right side of history. GEO must fight all forms of oppression by centering the voices and experiences of those generally excluded, to eliminate the erasure of underrepresented people.
  3. GEO as a whole is a reservoir of knowledge and ideas. Our mission must include routine community service and outreach. As researchers, teachers and intellectuals we have a responsibility to give back to our communities by asking them how we can build stronger relationships rooted in respect and solidarity.

I will continue working my hardest and listening closely to the needs and concerns of all members. I will continue to work against oppression and towards coalition building. To this end GEO members must be empowered to take ownership of our University. I am invested in building a stronger Union and ask for your support in strengthening GEO, ensuring all our members are heard and that all our rights are respected.

Mobilization Coordinator Candidates

Avery Fürst

My name is Avery Fürst, and I am a graduate student-worker in the Labor Studies program and plan to pursue a graduate certificate in Social Justice Education next year. I have been in GEO leadership for the last two years, serving on the Organizing Committee and the Bargaining Committee. Prior to my involvement in GEO I was a lead figure in campus activism by fighting for social justice for student-workers through my involvement in the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) and the Residential Assistant Union (RAU). In my former role as the Co-Chair of the Resident Assistant Union (RAU) within UAW 2322, I was a lead organizer in the campaign that led to a 33% wage increase – an over $1 million concession from the University- and movement towards job security for Resident Assistants.

Within GEO, I’ve held multiple elected positions including Bargaining Committee Co-Chief negotiator and currently serve as the union’s Mobilization Coordinator. As Mobilization Coordinator, I have been committed to engaging members in a multitude of ways. I have planned and led a diversity of events for members. I was in charge of the Stewards’ Organizing Training and worked on the GEO Selma Movie Night. In my role as Mobilizer, I supported the outreach for events such as CeCe McDonald’s speech, the GSS-GEO Socials and the Relax-in Day for GEO members during finals. With contract bargaining in full swing, I am working hard to keep members abreast with bargaining updates and organizing actions like the Halloween rally over workload, the February sit-in in Goodell, and the recent member-driven action at the bargaining table around healthcare.

I am seeking re-election for GEO’s Mobilization Coordinator to continue being responsive to our members’ needs, engage with their interests and passions, and to increase member participation in the Union. My goal is to strengthen our Union by growing our critical mass. Member participation, member leadership and feeling connected to the Union are vital for me. I want to build community through GEO by organizing socials, events, and actions that speak to our members’ interests and concerns. I would like the Union to be a second home for our members.

My overarching goal is to activate members to act collectively for their own interests and to improve the conditions of our working and non-working lives as graduate student-workers.


Steering At-Large Candidates

Anna Waltman

My name is Anna and I’m a PhD student in English and American Literature. I have been a proud member of GEO-UAW since 2009, active in union leadership since 2012. You likely already know me, as I’ve served as GEO co-chair for the last two years and I am currently your co-chief negotiator on the Bargaining Committee as well as one of your six elected reps on UAW Local 2322 Joint Council. For the upcoming academic year, I’m running to represent you as an At-Large Representative on Steering Committee. This will be my fourth (and likely final) term on Steering. My main goals for the upcoming year are: to serve as a source of recent institutional memory, procedural knowledge, and general support for the incoming officers, leaders, and staff; to continue developing a connected and vibrant regional, national, and international network of graduate student labor activists through the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions; and to continue collaborating with other leaders and union members to improve and enforce our contract. I look forward to helping our union continue to grow and flourish under the next set of officers, and, as your Steering representative, I will happily make myself available to any members who want to share thoughts or concerns with me about the union, the contract, etc.

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