What Meet & Confer Does and Doesn’t Do for You
Did you know there is a committee within the GSA devoted to bringing the specific needs of GRAs to the administration? The Meet & Confer committee has been meeting with the administration every semester for seven years to represent your needs. This serves in place of a union for GRAs, something that is currently illegal in the state of Maryland, but may be changing in the next few months.
As the state government prepares to vote if students should be allowed to form unions and use collective bargaining to address issues, I thought it would be worth your time to review what Meet & Confer has done for you, and what we have failed to do, without forming a union.
Our initial requests for Meet & Confer were relatively small, but meaningful. The “seventh” school of the university often felt overlooked or forgotten. We brought to the administrations’ attention that there were no “graduate school” shirts in the bookstore, drop down menus often didn’t include “graduate school”, and “graduate school” wasn’t originally on the large sign by MLK and Pratt. These small issues were quickly and immediately addressed.
Other successful discussions include rewording the handbook to ensure graduate students are not denied their minimum amount of vacation time. Through discussions with Dr. Perman we received clarity on safety issues, how they decide what constitutes and “alert” text, the status of shuttles, and the status filling out time sheets (which luckily has been postponed indefinitely). While these issues are beyond the power of the graduate students, I personally have found it advantageous to at least discuss them and understand the reasoning behind decisions. I.e. the decision to end shuttles came from college park struggling to get enough drivers. The administration is currently looking for new solutions to provide safe travels in the morning and evenings.
Not all discussions have turned out as we planned though. The candidacy ceremony came from a Meet & Confer discussion asking why medical students get white coats but we don’t get anything for qualifying. Originally the administration loved the idea, wanted to make it a large deal, and we requested each student get a lab coat. Instead, it has failed to really take off as planned, it is only sustainable as part of the GRC, and the padfolios are paid for mostly through GPILS. Some of this is due to complications with each program qualifying at different times of the year, but some of it has been lack of follow through.
The graduate student lounge also came from Meet & Confer. Every other school has at least one lounge for their students. Since we work year-round, it would be extra beneficial for us to have a place that doesn’t close or has shorten summer hours. But some students don’t even know we have a graduate lounge. When it was first opened (within just a few months of our initial discussion) it was almost constantly locked and no one could get access. It took over a year to fix that issue and students gave up going to it. Since then the GSA was forced to give up their storage room and place it in the student lounge, the student lounge was moved to the basement with a code access I doubt most of you know, and it is currently being moved again, this time to the Lexington building. It has yet to live up to its intended purpose.
Health and dental insurance have also been discussed at length. Our plan switched a few years ago and we received higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. We were told this is still the best offer in any school within the University of Maryland system. We have recently found that is true if you compare undergrad plans, but UMBC has a tiered plan and their GRAs have much better coverage. I try to be understanding that our original insurance was indeed too good to be true and wasn’t sustainable. However, it is frustrating that we the students had to do this research to compare other offers within the University of Maryland system.
In some ways, Meet & Confer has failed the graduate students. In other ways, it has given us opportunities with Dr. Perman, Dr. Jarell, Dr. Golembuski, and Dr. Ward we would not otherwise have.
If HB-199 passes we the graduate students will have the option to form a union. If this happens, we would rely on the union to bargain for any of our needs and Meet & Confer would end. It means we would potentially have more power to ask for things like better insurance. Though it should be noted most of that power comes from the threat of labor strikes. Forming a union would also mean we would not be able to discuss our needs, no matter how small, with the administration without going through the union and lawyers being present. It is not a decision to take lightly. Hopefully this article has helped inform you of what options you truly have before you.
If you have an issue specific to GRAs that you would like brought up to the administration please contact the GSA president at any time firstname.lastname@example.org and it can be added to the next Meet & Confer agenda.