Grad Assistants Approve New Contract

J.P. Goodwin

After ten months of negotiations, GEO (Graduate Employee Organization) Boston, which represents approximately 400 graduate student assistants at UMass Boston, reached a contract agreement with the UMB administration. On January 11, GEO members -who voted to unionize and join UAW (United Auto Workers) Local 1596 in November of 2000 – overwhelmingly approved their first contract.

“The negotiations went very well. There were very few problems,” declared Kathy Melish, business agent for UAW local 1596, who, along with Carol Knox, a sub-regional director for the UAW, led the negotiating team. “The university was extremely accommodating. There were only a couple of sticking points. We’re very happy with the contract. We got most of what we wanted,” added Melish.

Included in the new contract are the following provisions:

-Minimum stipend of $11,000/year for 20 hours in 2002/2003

-Minimum stipend of $12,000/year for 20 hours in 2003/2004

-Full tuition will be waived for both full and half-time grad employees

-3% stipend increases and 2% merit increases annually for everyone, effective Fall 2001

(retroactive pay available when funding is approved by the state)

-Establish a Health and Welfare Fund

-Professional Development and Research Fund

-Eligibility for assistantships throughout duration of all degree programs

-Two paid union representatives and union office accommodations

-New provisions for Ph.D students, including curriculum fee waivers for those who have completed dissertation credits, and full time matriculated status for those paying program fees.

“We have been meeting about once a week for nearly eight months, trying to come up with an agreement that will benefit most graduate employees and address the concerns of those of us with assistantships who feel we deserve better. The contract that we’ve come up with is the product of a lot of negotiating, brainstorming, debating, and hard work. While it’s not perfect, we feel it is a great start for the graduate employees union and an excellent first contract with which we can work and build on in the future,” announced the GEO Bargaining Team. UMB graduate student members of that team were Britte Beaudette-Zlatanova, Patty Szczys, Amy Cannon, David Prugh, Craig McClain and Mary Getchell.

The UMB administration was represented by Beth Marshall, assistant vice chancellor for Human Resources, Earl Baker, associate director of Human Resources, Kevin Barrett, the associate director of Human Resources in UMass President Bulger’s office and Emily McDermott, associate dean of Graduate Studies.

“We had a very profitable negotiation. Their team was very articulate. I think we were able to address most of the concerns and issues they brought to our attention. Both parties feel it is a good contract,” stated Marshall.

Barrett had a similar comment, “It was a very productive negotiation. I think we’ve reached a result that will work for the union and the Boston campus.”

According to Melish, the contract will now be reviewed by the Employee Relations Department in President Bulger’s office and then sent to the Massachusetts State Legislature to have the necessary funding allocated.

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” explained Melish. “It’s never been in the past.” She estimated it would take “about six months” to complete the process.