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UMaine Graduate Workers Union to host rally amidst contract negotiation with administrative bargaining team

The University of Maine Graduate Worker Union (UMGWU) is hosting a rally on March 26 at 1:30 p.m. to raise awareness of the grievances concerning rent and food expenses and advocate for fair wages, childcare accessibility, parental leave and rights for international workers. All interested members of the public, including students and faculty, are invited to meet at the Martin Luther King Plaza on campus to join the UMGWU movement.

Union members, organizers and those planning to participate in the rally will commence from the MLK plaza and march toward a bargaining session between administration officials and union representatives. The location has yet to be confirmed.

As union members prepare to negotiate the terms of their contract with the administration at the bargaining session, they are optimistic that a unified assembly outside the finalized location will demonstrate solidified support and guide university officials in adopting amenable decisions.

“The real power comes from the actual membership, showing that we’re real people in the real world with real issues that need to be addressed,” explains Eric Brown, a graduate research assistant and UMGWU member involved in bargaining negotiations.

Recently, the university countered their proposal to implement an entrenched mechanism for reporting different types of harassment through a non-discriminatory contract clause. Administration officials cite the existence of current workplace protection laws, including Title IX, which authorizes Maine educational establishments to file complaints against sexual harassment.

“If the laws were enough and we trusted the University to actually follow through with those, then we wouldn’t need to do this. Every week that we’re not able to get a contract done and signed is another week we’re paying a lot of money for food, rent, and medical bills,” said Brown. The sooner we can get this done, the sooner we can be relieved of economic issues.” 

Additionally, Brown revealed that the administration’s lead negotiator, Ria DeMay, a senior labor relations official, is a full-time resident of North Carolina. According to union members, the distance caused a delay during the back-and-forth mediating process.

The Graduate Workers Association has 14 bargaining goals and pledges to continue cordially streamlining the brokering process until a contract is constructed with the union’s prerogatives. While the Administration recommends the graduate student government as an appropriate avenue for raising relevant issues, Brown counters that there are issues brought to student government that have remained unresolved over the years.

Andrea Tirrel, a graduate teaching assistant and UMGWU organizer, echoed hopes for the Administration to credit union members’ dedication to the organization and their contributions to the University as graduate workers.

“I hope they pick up the pace with bargaining in a timely manner and recognize that we are human beings who need better conditions to work in,” Tirrel said.

In addition to the upcoming March 26 rally, UMGWU members also encourage interested graduate workers to join a “work-in” event on March 28 at any time between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. at the Ferland Engineering Education and Design Center to assist with union preparatory pursuits.

Currently, the union is responsible for representing all graduate, teaching, and research assistants under state law. UMGWU became officially recognized by the UMaine System on March 23, 2023, after conducting its first rally.

Upon sending a delegation to President Ferrini-Mundy’s office over the summer, the organization received formal written recognition from the administration. A supermajority of graduate workers, an estimated 1,000 individuals, filled out union authorization cards in less than six weeks. The State of Maine Labor Relations Board subsequently approved the union’s request for certification last September.

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