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March 27, 2005

Guest Blogger: Earth to Boston->Your Flagship is Sinking!

Blue Mass. Group is pleased to welcome its first guest blogger.  Jason Rodriquez is a doctoral student in the sociology department at UMass-Amherst.  You can reach him directly at jrodriquez [at] soc [dot] umass [dot] edu.

Jason's post, which discusses the ongoing negotiations involving the Romney administration, the UMass faculty, and the UMass graduate students, appears below the flip.  --David

Several rounds of massive budget cuts and an early-retirement program designed to lower faculty payroll have severely hurt the quality of education at UMass-Amherst.  In fact, the university has about 200 fewer full-time professors now than it did ten years ago, despite its steady enrollment of about 20,000 students.  To cut labor costs, the teaching burden is shifting from full-time faculty to adjuncts, but also to graduate students, who now teach 25% of all courses and are a cheap alternative to having real professors.

As a recent Boston Globe article has shown, graduate students make considerable sacrifices to study at UMass.  To make matters worse, they have also been working without a contract for over a year.  GEO, the union representing graduate students on campus, has been negotiating with the University during that time, and it is clear that UMass is complicit in pushing Governor Romney's right-wing agenda. 

For starters, the University shows its commitment to "family values" by proposing the elimination of affordable University Child Care, an invaluable service for families.  Many grad parents - because they live below the poverty line - do not pay for their child's care, but under the University's proposal these parents would be paying almost $5000 for the same care.

Secondly, although the issue of same sex partner benefits never came up in the first year of bargaining, UMass has abruptly made a new proposal to end health benefits for same-sex partners unless they have a valid marriage license.  The irony here is that while Romney is aggressively fighting gay marriage rights, his office is also demanding that same-sex couples have a marriage certificate to obtain benefits at UMass.

While it appears Romney has done little more than fight gay marriage and Matt Amorello, he's also been busy fighting public higher education.  He has twice vetoed retroactive pay raises (in the last six months) for University employees, the second of which was thankfully overridden by the state legislature, showing just how far out of touch Romney is with the "reality based community" who understand the value of a vibrant public university.  Governor Romney and Chancellor John Lombardi should be ashamed of their contempt for public higher education.

Posted by stickmoon at 03:40 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink

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UMass has abruptly made a new proposal to end health benefits for same-sex partners unless they have a valid marriage license.

Depending on how "abrupt" the transition is, this is IMO the correct course of action. Same-sex couples should be held to the same standards as opposite-sex couples if marriage is an option. Romney isn't necessarily behind this; a lot of corporations have done the same, and the rest are considering it.

I'm married, but for several years beforehand, my partner was able to ge my health benefits by virtue of our proving financial interdependency (cohabiting, joint checking account, signing an affidavit) while my female coworker was unable to get benefits for her live-in boyfriend.

Posted by: brittain33 | Mar 27, 2005 9:34:41 PM

If Romney ever plans on running for president and being taken seriously by other republicans, he cannot allow unions in his state to win decent contracts.

Posted by: walk2slyde | Mar 27, 2005 10:33:51 PM

UMass has abruptly made a new proposal to end health benefits for same-sex partners unless they have a valid marriage license.
---------------------
Gay couples should be held to the same standards as straight couples, however, by leading the charge to rewrite our constitution, Romney has surrendered the right to demand gay couples now abandon the only protection they have: the recognition of domestic partnerships.

If the Governor relents on the Amendment, then he can mandate this new policy. Until that time, it is simply insane for the Governor to think he can simultaneously seek to outlaw gay marriage and do away with domestic partnerships. At least one of these arrangements is here to stay...Romney needs to decide which he wants to fight, and which he wants to favor.

Posted by: zed | Mar 27, 2005 10:55:45 PM

Do you have financials on how much these proposed cuts would save UMass? It would be interesting to see those numbers so that we know the scale of the money UMass is trying to squeeze out of the faculty.

Posted by: lucky | Mar 27, 2005 11:01:00 PM

Do you have financials on how much these proposed cuts would save UMass?
---------

I will find out the exact figures and post them asap, but the universities top proposals would save them millions. They want to:

-decrease real wages (by raising fees more than raising wages)
-increase healthcare costs AND the ability to unilaterally change the agreement at will.
-eliminate affordable childcare
-eliminate domestic partnership rights.

Cutting labor costs are a priority for the adminstration, and the quality of education is suffering for it.

Posted by: stickmoon | Mar 27, 2005 11:38:16 PM

The marriage vs. domestic partnership issue is a very interesting one. I come down with Brittain33: it is perfectly appropriate for an institution (private or public) that normally only affords benefits to married couples to insist that gay as well as straight couples get married - as long as marriage is an option (i.e., they live in MA), and as long as there's a reasonable transition period. Folks who advocate for gay marriage have to recognize that when it comes into existence, it will change things for those who do not choose to take advantage of it as well as for those who do.

Posted by: David | Mar 28, 2005 9:13:15 AM

it is perfectly appropriate for an institution (private or public) that normally only affords benefits to married couples to insist that gay as well as straight couples get married.
----------------
Correct, but as Zed argued, Romney is trying to have it both ways...on the one hand he is fighting gay marraige, and on the other he is fighting domestic partnership rights. He needs to pick one. Right now, if Romney had his wish he'd insist gay couples get married if they want benefits, then add an amendment to the constitution outlawing gay marraige. Well Mitt, which is it?

Posted by: stickmoon | Mar 28, 2005 9:37:45 AM

I can't believe anyone would have a problem with the marriage requirement. Why is it an issue? This is the kind of stuff that makes non gay people who favor civil unions and don't care whether it is called marriage or notsay "screw the gays", they are want to be treated better then others, not equal."
This isn't about romney. Do u want equal right or don't you? Besides the u mass board of trustees, not romney would approve this policy and the president will implement this. Fighting this will make you lose friends in the staright community.
I just don't get your argument.

Posted by: The troll | Mar 28, 2005 12:20:50 PM

I can't believe anyone would have a problem with the marriage requirement. Why is it an issue? This is the kind of stuff that makes non gay people who favor civil unions and don't care whether it is called marriage or notsay "screw the gays", they are want to be treated better then others, not equal."
This isn't about romney. Do u want equal right or don't you?

Posted by: The troll | Mar 28, 2005 12:21:33 PM

Sorry Troll.

Posted by: zed | Mar 28, 2005 12:37:13 PM

Yes, I do want equal rights. And that means the same rights and responsibilities afforded to straight couples through marriage. Currently, the federal government has a law called the Defense of Marriage act which does NOT recognize the legality of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. This means that same-sex couples who get married in Massachusetts actually LOSE rights by entering into a legal contract, and therefore public relationship with each other. Also, many states have their own defense of marriage acts which impede on the rights of same-sex married couples in Massachusetts in areas such as future employment and adoption. For instance, married same-sex stand to lose opportunites of future employment in the military or in other states to which MA couples may later move. In the adoption scenario for example, same-sex couples can adopt by presenting a single-parent plan to anti-gay states under adoption law. All interested parties to the adoption -- eg. the birth parents and social workers know they are placing a child with a same-sex family, but on paper, as far as the state LAW is concerned, it's a single-parent adoption. Once married, the legality of the relationship has to be declared to anti-gay states through interstate compact laws, thus elminiating the possibility of adoption for MA married same-sex couples in 44 states. The point is that same-sex marriage in Massachusetts IS NOT the same as opposite-sex marriage. To insist that couples show proof of marriage as a prerequisite to partner benefits forces same-sex couples to choose between discriminatory outcomes. Until same-sex marriage is afforded the same federal rights, responsibilities and protections of marriage as opposite-sex marriage, getting rid of domestic partnership benefits is discriminatory. It is premature to do away with domestic partnership benefits when the federal government and 44 states do not recognize same-sex marriage but DO recognize public, legal documents like marriage as reason to discriminate against gay couples in adoption,employment and other processes.

Posted by: V. Adel | Mar 28, 2005 1:01:33 PM

That's interesteing adel, but you failed to address the issue here. Gay employees of University of Massachusetts must marry their partner in order to recieve spousal benefits. That is the proposal and the issue at hand. Can you adress this specific issue?

Posted by: The troll | Mar 28, 2005 2:04:14 PM

No problem Zed.

Posted by: The troll | Mar 28, 2005 2:33:00 PM

"Right now, if Romney had his wish he'd insist gay couples get married if they want benefits, then add an amendment to the constitution outlawing gay marraige."

This is an absurd position for Romeny to take. Anyone who can't see that is being obtuse. And anyone who is trying to act as if Romney doesn't have a hand in these negotiations is naive.

More important though: I'd like to see how much Umass plans on saving by cutting out child care.

Posted by: zed | Mar 28, 2005 2:38:31 PM

I don't understand the compalaint. Why would anyone expect anything different after the SJC ruling? Gays can get married now like straight people. Straight poeople must be married to collect spousal benefits if they are employess of UMASS. Do gays not want to have to get married in order to get those spousal benfits?
I am serious. I do not understand your argumnet. Other then Romney is doing it. So what. Isn't this going to be the trend by private employers that curreently allow gay partner benefits. Would they be wrong or homophobes in requiring this? I would assume many are now doing this.
Your argument seems to be that romney is contradicting himself. That is not a valid argument against the proposal.
And more importantly it makes the gay lobby appear to want more then equal rights and turns people off.
Give me a legitamate argument and i may agree with you.
Help me here. I am trying, i really am.

Posted by: The troll | Mar 28, 2005 3:21:39 PM

Do gays not want to have to get married in order to get those spousal benfits?
-----------
As soon as Romney makes it clear that he is no longer seeking to invalidate those marriages, he can insist on those marriages taking place. Its very simple.

Posted by: zed | Mar 28, 2005 4:08:52 PM

No good zed. Can we extrapolate this to say that as long as there as legislators who want to change the law you want it both ways? The law is the law. So Romnney wants to change it. Therer are many laws many elected officials would like to change. This law has not changed. If the law changes then you can go back to spousal benefits
What you are saying is we want both until every human being agrees with us.
Not logical Captain.
And not equitable zed.
The if romney saysd he won't push to make gay marigaes illegal you will say you don't believe him.
Plus he is the governor, not a dictator.
Your stance on this is detrimental to the bigger isue, gay rights.

Posted by: The trolll | Mar 28, 2005 7:08:43 PM

Troll, the "bigger issue" of my posting was not gay rights. My posting is about how Romney, Chancellor Lombardi and also Finneran (back when he was Czar) have willfully gutted public higher education. They seem not to care about the tremendous losses in faculty, not to mention the deteriorating campus infrastructure.

Take a ride out here sometime, see if you can find a building that isn't crumbling.

They seem not to care that graduate students, many times without even possessing a masters degree, are teaching 25% of all classes. Think about that. These undergrads are paying more in tuition and fees, and in return are getting a worse education.

The contract negotiations with grad students are one piece of the larger issue, the deteriorating quality of education at umass.

Posted by: stickmoon | Mar 28, 2005 7:57:43 PM

Agreed. Not so sure on rights of grad students. One day they will get their post graduate degree and still be young.
Maybe Bulger wasn't that bad after all.

Posted by: The troll | Mar 28, 2005 8:24:33 PM

Someone at UMass forwarded this amusing press release that I thought was worth posting here:

GRAD STUDENT EMPLOYEES DEMAND HIGHER SALARY FOR UNIVERSITY CHANCELLOR JOHN LOMBARDI

AMHERST, MA – The Graduate Employee Organization (GEO)/UAW Local 2322 today demanded that University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor John Lombardi’s salary be raised to $250,000 per year. The demand represents a major shift in focus for GEO, a labor union that represents 2,400 graduate student employees at UMass. On Thursday, March 31, GEO held one of the largest demonstrations at UMass in years, with over 600 grad employees and their allies marching to demand fair wages, healthcare, and childcare for GEO members.

GEO and the University have been negotiating over a new contract for more than a year, and despite the fact that Chancellor Lombardi and the administration refuse to offer grad student employees anything but major decreases to their standard of living—including cuts to real wages, drastic increases in healthcare and childcare costs, and taking away benefits from same-sex couples— GEO is now launching a campaign calling for fair treatment for the Chancellor.

“We just discovered that Chancellor Lombardi only makes $249,999.88 per year,”
said GEO Vice President Jed Murr. “That’s simply unfair. For all his hard work, he deserves $250,000. So, even though our members live near or under the poverty line, we’re asking them to help us scrape together one penny per month to send to Lombardi to help him reach the salary he deserves.”

GEO, relying solely on funds donated by their members, plans to send one cent to Chancellor Lombardi during the first week of every month, so that his yearly salary will total exactly $250,000. The organization is determined to raise the money even as Lombardi insists on cutting real wages, healthcare, and childcare from already-struggling grad employees.

“We just feel like it’s the right thing to do. With his current salary, the Chancellor only makes around $156 per hour, and we’re not sure he can live on that,” said GEO member Pat Furey. “President Wilson, the president of the whole UMass system, gets a package that’s worth $497,000 a year; we think Lombardi deserves that, even if he and Wilson continue to refuse to treat grad student workers fairly.”

Graduate employees with families, who currently earn approximately $6,000- $12,000 per year, will be one of the populations hit the hardest if the University’s regressive proposals are enacted. GEO just finished a 15- minute “video petition” of about 25 families and allies on campus asking for affordable childcare and support for family programming; the idea behind the petition is that it will allow UMass administrators to see the faces and hear the voices of some of the families that will be affected by their proposals.

The union plans to send copies of the video to Chancellor Lombardi and UMass President Jack Wilson; the video will also be made available to the media through GEO’s website at www.geouaw.org or by request.

“It’s increasingly clear that the concessions demanded by the University are not driven by a need to cut costs. We’re talking about sums that represent less than 1/1000th of the University’s budget,” said Megan McDonough, GEO’s Family Issues Advocate. “Still, our priorities have to be in the right place.
Chancellor Lombardi deserves more money now; grad employees who have children, like me, will simply have to find other ways to make ends meet. It’s only
fair.”

GEO represents more than 2400 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.

Contact: Jed Murr, 413-883-9138, or Megan McDonough, 413-545-0705

Posted by: David | Apr 11, 2005 10:44:28 AM

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