Brief Pre-Fall Update

Hi GEO,
The new semester is almost upon us. We’re delivering just a few quick updates before we hunker back down into Fall prep.

Parking: We know at some point for Fall semester the university is going to resume collecting parking fees; that said, specific information hasn’t yet come out, though it should be coming out from the university relatively soon. It is important to note that we signed an impact bargaining agreement in Spring that says the university must give two weeks of notice before resuming parking fee collection from GEO members.

Health and Safety (H&S) Bargaining: we’re in coalition with our union partners; we met with them on Monday to deliver our first proposals, which are all about ensuring and enforcing rules to keep everyone healthy. We’re presently waiting on them to get back to us with dates to meet again.

Main Table Bargaining: we are awaiting proposals from management that would entail a one-year extension at the benefit of reduced health insurance costs. We don’t know how much the reduction would be; our next main table bargaining meeting with management is on the 16th.

GEO Elections: due to COVID, we’ve had to overhaul our election process – and we still are. We plan to announce the self-nomination period next week once we iron out all details!

The Scholarly Support Fund: due to COVID, some of you asked if you could request SSF for things other than airfare, conference registration fees, and hotel bookings – because none of us are going to be traveling. We’re in discussions with the university about how to achieve this, but want to tell you now that SSF will be delayed, and applications will not open on the first day of the semester. Once we know more details we will let all of you know.

Stay safe out there,
The Graduate Advocate

INFORMATION // THE SCHOLARLY SUPPORT FUND

We are working to update the SSF to reflect the realities of academia during the lockdown. Our goal is to release a full set of details in our next communication and have the application process start on the first day of classes. At the moment, we’re ironing out some final details about what eligible expenses are and how to verify that you need reimbursement. 

Our goal is to shift the SSF from being a travel fund to being a general academic support initiative, which is a pretty major change. Stay tuned to our website for updates.  If we have to delay applications to make the program more effective, we will let you know well in advance. 

UPDATE // FALL ELECTIONS AND ONLINE VOTING

We will be holding elections for two half time (9 hours a week) positions this semester! In a departure from the old world, we’ll be holding these elections entirely online!  We’re still finalizing the process and ironing out the details, but keep your eyes open. Once we get everything figured out and ready, we’ll roll out the process. 

We want to ensure a two week period for candidates to self-nominate, another two weeks for campaigning, a week for voting, and then the big announcement of results. We’re not sure yet what we’re going to do in lieu of our traditional party–but we’ll figure something out. If you have any ideas, let us know! We’d love some help. 

INFORMATION // GEO AND THE ACTF

GEO has had representation on the Academic Continuity Task Force, established by the Provost earlier this summer, and has been fighting hard to make sure that the slight re-opening of campus goes without a hitch–and working hard at the social justice aspect of it as well. At the moment, we’re hoping to make social justice and anti-racism resources available for graduate students and student-facing employees. 

INFORMATION // HEALTH INSURANCE AND TUITION WAIVERS

As many returning students know, but new students are learning, it can take the University until the end of October to process waivers for tuition and health insurance. This makes it very hard for us to know what our account balance is at the Bursar’s office. We suggest making a small good faith deposit and then waiting to find out what your full balance is instead of paying what appears to be owing in September. A deposit is usually enough to have the school waive late fees, though we can assist if they do apply any to your account. Check out your WISER accounts over the next few weeks to see if your waivers have already been applied. The university has to apply all of them manually, and this process takes some time.  If you have questions, we are always able to help provide some answers. Email us at geo@umb.edu.
For health insurance: you need to manually enroll in the health insurance plan if you do not have coverage from somewhere else and if you are on a ‘program fee’ or taking fewer than 7 credit hours. The WISER system is not well designed, so you must email Shirley Condon at the Bursar’s Office (shirley.condon@umb.edu) and ensure you are covered for the year. Remember that we also have a reimbursement for vision and dental up to 50%.

UPDATE // INTERNATIONAL STUDENT INFORMATION

The highly restrictive ICE memo that circulated on July 6th has been rescinded, but the University has been slow to put plans in place to fully support international students. The situation is better for continuing students who were enrolled and working before the pandemic, but yet there are still challenges created by university policies that make things more difficult for these international students. Having a work assignment is incredibly valuable for graduate students; to study in the US you need to show you have the ability to pay for school. For most foreign grad students, this means having a stipend, tuition waiver, and health insurance and other benefits we in GEO have fought to secure for our members. We are fighting to ensure as many students as possible get their promised appointments and can add much needed diversity to our campus community. 

Right now, the university’s plan largely ignores new international graduate students who are not in the United States.  Some programs are trying to get these people a scholarship, but the University is using a GEO allocation and pocketing the salary savings. The university should not be trying to profit from some of our most vulnerable members. We in GEO continue to fight for social equity and justice for all members of our campus community, whether in Boston or abroad.

UPDATE // H&S COALITION BARGAINING

GEO is working with the UMass Boston Union coalition to work on health-and-safety reopening guidelines that include masks, air quality, the number of people allowed in a room, and more–we’ve submitted proposals to management, and are presently waiting for them to get back to us with dates for meeting.

Once we meet, we’ll get you an update on exactly how things are looking and where things have settled. The union coalition group has met this week; we’re meeting with management on the 31st, and will get you an update shortly after that. Additionally, we are seeking meetings with management over health and safety issues specific to graduate students. 

UPDATE // FALL IMPACT BARGAINING

As the official union for Graduate Employees, we have a right to negotiate the impacts of policy decisions made between main bargaining periods. With so many policy changes resulting from responses to the COVID pandemic, we have been in near constant negotiations with University Administration since February.  

We are currently meeting with management around impacts occurring during the fall semester.  Some of the things we are discussing include greater support and protections for international students, clarity on the Massachusetts quarantine, ensuring health and safety protection for people who have to come to campus, monitoring class sizes and work-loads are not increasing for members working remotely, and attempting to make sure that graduate students are not penalized due to class changes. 

We are awaiting management’s reply to informal proposals we mentioned during our last meeting; once we have something in writing (or are ready to propose our own language to management), we’ll come with another update.

UPDATE // CONTRACT BARGAINING

Over the last few months, GEO and management have solidified ground-rules and begun the process of main-table bargaining. Management originally proposed a one-year extension of the contract with no change, which we turned down, as we could not see the rationale for it; later, however, we thought that a one-year extension would be good for membership if, and only if, it included a much higher health insurance waiver. We are waiting to hear back on management of this offer; it has been working its way through different offices since we first brought it up, and we have taken the extra time to work on impact bargaining proposals.

If we can get this one year extension, and if membership is willing to ratify it, it would give a large financial boon to those on the health insurance plan–the cost of which, for a full time GEO member, is now a thousand dollars a year. It’s more for those without a full time position. If management is not willing to accept this deal, then we will continue with main table bargaining as normal, seeking a three-year contract; we will be in it for the long haul, and likely will be bargaining until next year. 

Our platform for bargaining was approved last spring by membership. You asked us to focus on the following core ideas:

  • Increasing wages for all GAs
  • Increasing health insurance waivers
  • Eliminating extra fees and charges by making tuition waivers all inclusive
  • Increasing mental health and addictions counseling services 
  • Developing support for GAs with families
  • Providing family and medical leave policies for all GAs
  • Increasing transportation assistance for all commuters
  • Reducing student food insecurity
  • Providing student housing support
  • Removing winter pay gap
  • Improving support and protections for summer student-workers
  • Eliminating tuition for online and summer classes
  • Increasing student representation in campus decision-making

To endorse our bargaining platform, please sign up on our website: (https://geoumb.org/geo-umass-boston-bargaining-platform-2020-2023/)