I can imagine no better way to celebrate GEO’s 22nd anniversary than bargaining and ratifying our newest contract in record time. Over the past couple of years, graduate students have consistently demonstrated a strong ability to organize and mobilize – not only fellow GEO/UAW members- but across the spectrum of community interest groups and stakeholders. In the case of the UHS reform campaign, our successes relied heavily on ensuring that all affected parties had a voice during deliberations. Through a coalition of concerned partners composed of undergrads, grads, staff, administrators, physicians, union leaders, trustees, local municipal employees and elected officials, we were able to reverse the decision to close the Pharmacy and Lab Services; subsequently saving about 40 UHS employee jobs and ensuring continued access to these services for local individuals that rely on UHS services over 74,000 times annually. Additionally, through the bargaining process, GEO was able to further reduce out of pocket healthcare expenses for members and extend co-pay cap benefits. Our collective strength has resulted in a new level of respect from, and access to, decision makers within the administration. This momentum must be used to continue improving the quality of life for graduate students and the entire UMass community. With this in mind, I would briefly like to relay GEO’s current campaigns and goals for the remainder of the 2012-2013 academic year.
Many of you may be aware of, or at least have seen the flyers for, the Workplace Bullying survey that circulated this past spring. This was the culmination of nearly three years of preparation by the Campus Coalition Against Workplace Bullying, which included representatives from AFSCME, GEO, MSP, PSU, USA/MTA, EOD, FSAP, Ombuds, and the college of SBS. Over 2200 campus employees participated in the survey and the results were in line with national benchmarks regarding incidences of bullying. Sadly this means that over one third of employees reported experiencing some type of bullying in their workplace. Multiple presentations of the results has resulted in the Chancellor establishing a Workplace Climate Anti-Bullying Committee charged with casting a wider net across the UMass community in assessing employment experiences, and drafting policies and procedures to reduce bullying behaviors throughout campus. We here at GEO are proud to be a part of the first efforts to address this higher education and workplace issue here in Massachusetts and will be relaying information regarding upcoming focus groups and progress toward new policies as it becomes available. One primary goal of the anti-bullying committee is to create a portal (or an office) that can triage and direct students and employees to applicable support systems on campus, rather than the current situation relying on best guess, or worse, those unaware of FSAP, Ombuds, union office support, EOD, mental health services, and the like, which may result in students and employees choosing not to seek help at all.
Although we have had many victories during the past year related to our health care campaign, many challenges still exist. One primary goal for this following spring is to secure student (grad/undergrad) and stakeholder (patients, physicians, staff, community members) representation on all committees responsible for oversight of UHS activities/programs. We are currently in discussions with department of administration and finance, along with student affairs representatives, to expand grad student representation on the Student Health Insurance Review Committee from 2 members to 4, with voting rights. This committee is charged with reviewing bids from insurance companies and ultimately makes the final recommendation to Dean Kim as to which insurer and plan should be awarded next year’s contract (beginning August 1st). Although, arguably more important is student and stakeholder representation during the process of creating the “Request for Proposals”. As we learned two years ago, if you ask a company to provide plans with $5,000 in coinsurance, then you will receive bids with $5,000 coinsurance. We must encourage the administration, and the new leadership at UHS, to aim for less cost and more benefits for healthcare recipients from the beginning of the bidding process – which should begin in February.
Additionally, at the direction of our members, the GEO staff will be focusing our energies on the following campaigns:
- Addressing challenges and concerns regarding the Residential Life reorganization and encouraging the administration to include graduate student input during the implementation of the next phase of proposed personnel changes;
- Women’s wellness campaign –reviewing the status of child care and determining ways to maintain and expand parental access to on-campus options, expanding breast feeding and diaper changing stations, creation of women’s clinic at UHS
- Determining the impact of the university’s decision to discontinue the graduate student federal work study program (despite its presence among our regional and national peers);
- Assessing the needs of TA’s and TO’s for office and student meeting spaces;
- Surveying the membership for incidences of excessive workload;
- Investigating assistantship allocation variances across the campus and creating a best practices recommendation to the graduate school;
- Seeking additional graduate student representation on the UMass board of trustees (presently a joint effort with GSS)
- Anti-oppression trainings;
- Student stress reduction workshops;
- Closing campus for a day of sexual harassment awareness to start a multi-year education campaign to make this campus safer;
- Creating steward activist posters highlighting the impact of member volunteers;
- Encouraging UHS to incorporate LGBTQ needs into upcoming personnel decisions;
Stay tuned to www.geouaw.org for updates and ways you can contribute to improving our quality of life here in this temporary home away from home.
Derek, Jocelyn, and the Grad Student GEO Staff