GEO Grad employees are SQUEEZED BY FEES!

Vlog about the Squeezed by Fees action by GEO UAW 2322 Grad Employee Organization and their struggle for a fair contract at UMass Amherst

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Lemon-Aiders and "UMass Administrators" Mix and Mingle at UMass Board of Trustees Meeting 3/14/07

Graduate student employees Swati Birla and Irene Boeckmann, dressed as lemons "squeezed by fees" and in need of "lemon-aid," and Nate Johnson and Jeremy Wolf, posing as fat-cat administrators who've benefited from exorbitant raises, attended the UMass Trustees Meeting on 3/14/07 to protest yet another proposed increase in student fees.

UMass claims that the persistent lack of adequate funding from the state is to blame for the pinch students, faculty and staff feel on the Amherst campus. What they don't want you to know is that they consistently make poor choices with the funding the University does receive--diverting funds this year that were promised to increase the number of faculty on campus to increase the number of administrators (and their salaries) instead.

Chancellor Lombardi received a 39% increase this year, raising his salary to more than $370,000--more than double the salary of the Governor in MA. And what do we have to show for it???

"The Lemon Drop"--GEO delivers hundreds of petitions to Trustees

Graduate student employees Swati Birla and Irene Boeckmann deliver a basket full of lemons and hundreds of petitions urging a no vote on fee increases to the UMass Board of Trustees. The Graduate Employee Organization/UAW Local 2322 is currently negotiating their 7th contract with the University, and reducing mandatory fees are a key issue in the negotiations.

Fees have increased 126% since 2001 and have eaten away at the wage increases gained by graduate employees. UMass ranks last among its peer institutions when you look at stipends offered vs fees charged--at Rutgers, graduate employees earn approximately $5000 more and pay $0 in fees. Simply put, the fees at UMass Amherst make the University less competitive in a variety of ways. The curriculum fees charged to departments for each grad employee make it harder to compete for smaller grants, and the other mandatory fees make UConn a more appealing choice than UMass Amherst.

Jeff Napolitano, GSS President, attacks fee increase

Jeff Napolitano, president of the Graduate Student Senate at UMass Amherst, speaks out against the fee increase. Illustrating the destructive impact of the fees, he informs trustees that student Valerie Louis, a student trustee from the Amherst campus just last year, was unable to stay in school this year because she couldn't afford the cost.

Student Trustee Mishy Leiblum argues against fee increase

Mishy Leiblum, student trustee and graduate student from the Amherst campus, argues forcefully against the fee increase. She points out that regardless of the financial aid provided, student face a $2000 gap in the face of rising fees, and they're being priced out of a degree.

One UMass Trustee Takes a Stand Against Increasing Fees

UMass Trustee Jennifer C. Braceras, a voting member of the Board, decides to oppose the fee increase in order stand with students in sending a clear message to the Legislature that the gap in funding the University budget cannot continue to be passed off on students.

Vote to Increase Student Fees by 3.4% carries

Over the objections of two student trustees, who can't officially vote, and the objections of two other voting trustees, the UMass Board of Trustees voted to increase student fees for 2007-08 by 3.4%. The voting trustees against the increase cited the need to stand by students in sending a message to the Legislature about the need for more funding and also the fact that this is a de facto tuition increase, which is not within the purview of the Board, as reasons for their opposition to the increase.

UMass President Jack Wilson said that a vote against the increase was a vote against the 250 plan to increase faculty at UMass Amherst, against capital improvements and against financial aid. What he didn't say was that the UMass plan to add 250 faculty at UMass Amherst was put on hold by Chancellor Lombardi many months ago, when a 39% raise for himself and 50% increases in administrator pay on the campus felt like more important priorities.

UMass Trustees vote to recommend raise for UMass President

Directly after voting to increase student fees by 3.4% for 2007-08, UMass Trustees voted to recommend a 2.9% increase and 15% bonus for UMass President Jack Wilson. Wilson's 2.9% increase is close to what a graduate employee earns in a year of teaching or performing research. The increase means that Wilson's salary tops $370,000.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


For Immediate Release
March 13, 2007

Contact: Swati Birla or Jeremy Wolf (413) 545-0705


AMHERST, MA –Members of the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO)/UAW Local 2322 have been “squeezed by fees” long enough and will be taking their plight to the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees at their regular meeting on Wednesday, March 14th at 8:30 am in the Faculty Board Room in the Medical School Building at the Worcester campus.

Graduate employees will appear before the Board in lemon costumes to petition for “lemon-aid,” or a rollback of the mandatory graduate fees that have risen by 126% in recent years. The lemon brigade will be delivering to the trustees a gift basket of lemons, along with petitions from its members. The lemons will be chaperoned at the meeting by several UMass Amherst “administrators,” who will thank the Board for their recent double-digit pay increases, pass out $100 bills to everyone and chastise the lemons for their audacity.

“The Chancellor just received a 39% raise to $347,499 and salaries for University administrators have risen nearly 50% over the last two years. I know it’s hard to believe, but that leaves a sour taste, even in my mouth,” said Irene Boeckmann, graduate student employee and one of the lemon-aiders.

The Union’s contract proposals include rollbacks of mandatory fees and cost of living raises, an increased commitment from UMass to support diversity, improved and expanded childcare facilities, paid parental leave and increased job security.

“Among its five peer institutions, UMass Amherst ranks last when you deduct the mandatory fees charged from the stipends offered. When the best and brightest graduate students look at UMass vs. the University of Connecticut, they see that after fees they’ll be making over $5000 more at UConn. It doesn’t take a genius to see that UConn is the juicier deal,” said Swati Birla, graduate student employee and one of the lemon-aiders.

UMass faculty are also interested in addressing the skyrocketing fees that put the squeeze on academic departments, as well as their graduate employees. The Massachusetts Society of Professors, the union representing faculty at UMass Amherst, have proposed a similar reduction in the curriculum fee in their negotiations with the University. In addition, the Faculty Research Council has stated that “ [the curriculum fee] reduced the competitive advantage of our larger grants and may drive the direct cost of Research Assistants to a level precluding their appointment to small science grants” and recommends freezing or eliminating the fee altogether.

Were the University to agree to stop charging the curriculum fee, the current fees departments pay could be used to hire 495 new graduate researchers or 95 new faculty, all desperately needed if the University is to adequately staff its classrooms and engage in cutting-edge research. In addition, the University would only need to commit 1.27% of their state funding in order to relieve graduate students of the single largest mandatory fee—the graduate service fee—and this would reposition the University to rank 4th instead of last among its peers in graduate student compensation.

To view the video after the event, visit

GEO represents more than 2,400 graduate student employees at UMass Amherst and is affiliated with UAW Local 2322, which represents 3,600 workers in western Massachusetts in the fields of higher education, early childhood education, and health and human services.