UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Ask Bobby #12
September 25, 2023

Don’t forget how UMass Boston has treated its workers


UMass Boston staff work with users at the IT Desk in Healey Library.

There are two subgroups of workers at UMass Boston, faculty staff and graduate student workers. How much they have in common varies from person to person, but one thing they all agree on is that the UMass Boston administration is not giving them a fair deal.
In terms of the graduate student workers, UMass Boston is the only public research university in the city, and many students here are either in a graduate program undertaking such research, or are looking forward to a future of graduate research at the university. Unfortunately, it seems that UMass Boston’s status as the sole public option for academic research has allowed them to swindle their graduate students out of the wages they are deserved.
On the faculty staff side of things, it seems that UMass Boston has treated them somewhat better—though the librarians have taken issue with some of their treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just recently, the Faculty Staff Union sent the administration an email—which can be viewed on their website—concerning the poor working conditions that the librarians were subject to during the height of COVID-19. Evidently, they were ignored at first, and had to pester the administration to respond with real action. They have also publicly expressed and demonstrated their solidarity with all of the UMass campus’ Graduate Student Employee Organizations over their unfair wages.
Last semester, on April 7, 2022, UMass Unions United held a rally in the Quinn Administration building lobby in solidarity with the Graduate Employee Organization of UMass Boston—a labor union for our resident graduate student employees—before marching up to Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco’s office to hand the “powers that be” an open letter. The letter itself, which is still available to read through a link on the GEO’s website, laid out their grievance, stating that graduate students at UMass Boston “are the worst paid graduate students in the Boston area—and the worst paid when compared to peer institutions” in one of the top most expensive cities in the country.  They also stated that the administration was being totally obstinate and cruel in its unwillingness to negotiate fairly and pay graduate students their fair share.
When the time came to march up to the chancellor’s office, the campus police began blocking the way, allowing only a tiny group to walk up then back down, before sending another group up. They claimed it was “for safety,” but murmurs spread that there was more to it, that the administration just didn’t want to deal with a crowd of fed-up, organized workers. Eventually, after finding an alternate route around the police, followed by their eventual capitulation, the whole crowd—maybe around fifty, fired-up graduate students and supporters—poured up the stairwells and into Suárez-Orozco’s office where his very confused, very new assistant tried to talk the group down.
Evidently—despite UMass Unions United spreading the word through social media and flyers around the school for weeks ahead of time that April 7 was the day they would hand in their letter—the Chancellor thought that his time was better served hobnobbing with the schools’ donors at an off-campus meeting than engaging with mistreated workers at the campus. His assistant ignored the GEO’s insistence that he call his boss, and seemed to be totally surprised by the demonstration in general. To be honest, I felt a little bad for him; it seemed that he was very much thrown to the sharks unwittingly.
Fast forward to today, there seems to have been an effective muffling of the issue by the administration. It’s hard to find answers about what kind of deal the GEO and the school administration may have reached, and there is little to be seen about the issue on-campus. As recently as late-April, the UMass Boston GEO tweeted about their current health insurance subsidy, advocating that they “deserve better than a 50 percent subsidy”. Clearly, the mistreatment is not over.
Let’s be clear, the treatment of certain faculty staff—particularly the horrible and bad faith bargaining with the GEO, along with the total disregard of the UMass Boston administration towards them at the time—is unacceptable. This travesty cannot be allowed to slip under the radar, and even if the administration chooses to do the right thing this semester and bargain fairly with the GEO, they should never be allowed to forget their actions in the past.
By now, if you’ve kept up with the opinions section, you might have noticed a pattern in my articles: Calling for action. I don’t believe in cajoling and complaining without a purpose, so by the end of each article I try to give you all concrete suggestions about how to get involved and make a difference. In this case, there are two important steps you can take. Firstly, I encourage everyone to support the Graduate Employee Organization here at UMass Boston, and even UMass Amherst, since, according to the Faculty Staff Union’s website, they are embroiled in a similar labor contract dispute.  In addition, support of the Faculty Staff Union, along with the other faculty unions, and UMass Unions United in general is necessary as well. This means attending their public events, responding to surveys and polls, and joining them for demonstrations. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for events and follow them on social media at “Graduate Employee Organization UMass Boston” on Facebook, or on their website. The Faculty Staff Union website is https://www.fsu.umb.edu/.
My second suggestion is even simpler: Talk about it! There has seemingly been a very successful effort to silence major discourse about this massive failure to uphold workers’ rights and dignity, and the best way to combat the silence is to make noise. Talk to your professors and your graduate student acquaintances about it—they are likely to be happy to weigh in and will definitely appreciate your interest—and make your support known. But more importantly, talk to the undergraduate students about it and help the word spread outside of just the directly affected. There is no progress without solidarity!

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor