UMass Lowell graduate students rally for higher wages – Lowell Sun

LOWELL – Graduating students from UMass Lowell gathered on the university’s south campus on Tuesday to ask the school administration to pay them a living wage.

The Graduate Employee Organization (GEO), United Auto Workers Local 1596, the union that represents teaching and research assistants at UMass Lowell, has been negotiating a contract with the school since May, but so far they have not failed to conclude a contract.

“We are trying to make people pay because the semester is running out and no contracts have been made,” said Razvan Stanescu, president of GEO.

According to GEO, graduate student workers were left without an updated contract from 2009 until last year, when they made a deal with the university to receive an 8.5% raise, settling for a lower amount. to whatever they wanted due to the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic. However, part of that deal called for negotiations to reopen in 2021.

Graduate students currently receive a median 9-month stipend of $ 16,856.42. They do not receive dental or eye insurance through the school and pay 20% of health insurance premiums.

At Tuesday’s rally outside the O’Leary Library, graduate students, some dressed in Halloween-themed outfits, handed out candy to attendees. Each mini chocolate bar was labeled with instructions that graduate students should not eat them because they don’t have dental insurance.

“They give us breadcrumbs for what it costs to live in Lowell,” Stanescu told the assembled crowd of more than 30 people. “All we ask is to be treated like young adults who can make a living in this city. … You are already so overworked with a full load of classes, with teaching duties, with having to do research to get your degree. We are already burning candles at both ends, and all we ask is to be paid a fair amount in return.

Sabrina Rapisarda, a third-year doctoral student and GEO officer, said that over the summer she worked 80 hours a week to save money, knowing that she could not earn enough during the year school. She said many graduate students like her to skip meals and cope with cramped life situations to make ends meet.

She referred to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a pyramid used by psychologists to represent all the things living things need to survive and be happy, with necessities like food and shelter below and self-realization at the top.

“You can’t climb the ladder of the pyramid to self-realization or… higher order thought if you don’t address the bottom of the pyramid first,” Rapisarda said. “It includes food, water, shelter, all the basic necessities of life that one might think should be afforded to every human being. Unfortunately, this is not the case here.

Rapisarda said that during negotiations, the union has repeatedly shown academic data and testimonials from students who cannot live with the salaries provided to them, as well as figures showing the comparatively higher salaries offered. in other educational institutions.

She also noted that by not offering a fair salary to graduate students, UMass Lowell is not encouraging diversity among its students, as those who come from less fortunate backgrounds cannot afford the cost of living at all. by pursuing higher education.

Additionally, for the 57% of UMass Lowell graduate students who come from outside the United States, they are legally unable to find a second job due to immigration visa rules.

Tom Estabrook, professor and member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, called the university’s failure to come to an agreement with students so far “shameful”, “elitist” and “outrageous.” He said he had heard in previous negotiations that school administrators viewed the student financial struggle as a “rite of passage.”

“How can they treat you like garbage and be a world class university?” ” he said.

In a statement, the university said it was eager to continue the negotiation process. “UMass Lowell graduate students play a diverse and important role in advancing the teaching and research missions of the institution,” said UMass Lowell spokesperson Jon Strunk. “The current contract with the Graduate Employee Organization, which includes an agreement to reopen salary negotiations for fiscal years 2021 and 2022, runs until June 30, 2023. As the university focuses our negotiation efforts and communications on our formal bargaining sessions, we continue to negotiate in good faith with the GEO and are confident to reach a resolution acceptable to all parties.

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