GEO Gypped By Sly Scare Tactic

Edward Hunt and Caleb Nelson

While maneuvering through budget shortfalls this spring and summer UMass officials managed to maneuver contract negotiations with the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) into a ditch. The newest contract signed by graduate assistants at UMB still offers inferior benefits to those offered at other UMass campuses.

During this recent round of negotiations, the GEO sought a contract similar to the one that UMass offers graduate employees at Amherst. For example, UMass covers 95% of the health care costs, discounts 50% of the parking costs, and funds dental and vision plans for full-time graduate assistants working at the Amherst campus. None of these benefits have ever been offered to UMB graduate assistants.

UMB officials said they did not have money to offer these same benefits to graduate assistants at the Boston campus because of a ten million dollar budget shortfall. This scared GEO negotiators into accepting their recent contract. However, after negotiations finished officials announced a budget surplus.

In a recent interview concerning the budget at UMB Ellen O’Connor, Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance at UMB, described this surplus revenue as a cushion in case of future budget deficits.

“Between the new fee revenue, the new stimulus revenue and other things we’ve balanced the budget and we’ve got a significant reserve for when there will be further reductions [in state funding to UMass]” O’Connor said.

Though this surplus is being saved for future needs at UMB, GEO members point out that their demands would not have been excessively expensive.

GEO negotiators felt that the UMB administrators never had any intention of offering graduate assistants the same benefits provided at the Amherst campus. One UMB official rejected the notion that all of the University’s graduate employees, whether they worked in Amherst or Boston, deserved the same benefits for the same work.

In fact, the University has a long history of curbing the pay and benefits of graduate assistants working at UMB. Before the GEO finished negotiating its first contract with UMass in early 2002, graduate assistants did not receive a health care benefit.

Perhaps this past neglect helps explain why 96% of the voting graduate students elected to form a union in November 2001. At the time, Pat Reeve, the director of Labor Resources at UMB, described the election as “a significant and major step towards strengthening the graduate students position.”

Ultimately, the newest contract for graduate assistants at UMB covers their terms of employment for the next three years. In the current academic year, major changes include a 1.5% pay increase, a 10% reduction in work hours, and a $100 increase in the health care benefit.

Additionally, the GEO resolved a longstanding loophole that had previously enabled the University to avoid paying the health care benefit to a small number of assistants.

Given its recent experience with the University, the GEO remains more committed than ever to the idea that if graduate assistants working in Boston ever hope to receive a contract similar to the one their colleagues in Amherst enjoy, then they will have make an active, conscious, long-term commitment to get it.

For additional information about GEO, please visit Edward Hunt, a member of the GEO Committee, can be reached at [email protected].

Benefits: UMass Boston vs. UMass Amherst BostonAmherstHealth75%95%DentalNoneFullVisionNoneFullParkingPre-tax50%