Fellow Graduate Assistants,
Although many of you have been in contact through the bargaining sessions, I wanted to formally introduce myself. My name is Esteban Rodofili, and I am your new Chief Bargainer. I am an international PhD student in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. My duties within GAU are to conduct the negotiations for stipends and working conditions in our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Last Summer, we finally got the University to pay the transportation and health fees on our behalf as they had agreed to months before. It was important to have the fees paid on our behalf instead of as a lump sum through our paychecks. This is because the lump sum payments could be interpreted by UF as a raise, constraining our ability to obtain a raise in future negotiations. For GAU, it has always been critical to make the distinction between obtaining a raise and fee relief, as fees are payments we make in order to be able to work and therefore a part of our stipend that we are forced to relinquish. I assumed duties close to the end of this negotiation sequence, and our success was possible thanks to the efforts of our bargaining committee and of our former chief bargainer, Javier Mesa.
Between the end of Summer and beginning of Fall semester, we conducted a survey on the current living conditions of graduate assistants, including food security, housing, and access to healthcare, among other aspects. We received over 1,000 responses from graduate assistants. This amazing response has been invaluable in current negotiations with UF administration, and we want to thank everyone who participated!
The results of the survey were unfortunate but not surprising. 29% of respondents have been unable to or have had to delay buying groceries, 24% have had to supplement their stipend with an informal or part-time job, 20% have been unable to or have had to delay paying rent, and 50% of respondents could not afford or had to delay getting medical attention, among other disheartening results.
This Fall we began negotiations over Article 10 of our CBA, which dictates stipends, raises, and fee relief. This article is negotiated every year. Our first proposal to UF was an increased minimum stipend of $38,833.33 for twelve-month appointments at a 0.5 FTE (other appointments being proportional to this stipend). This number was based on UF’s own calculations for off-campus housing costs (since there isn’t enough on-campus housing capacity for graduate students) to remove GAs from being rent-burdened (having rent being more than 30% of their income), a condition that makes us particularly vulnerable to any emergency expense and to financial hardship.
UF counteroffered an across-the-board raise of $1,060 annual. Unfortunately, this also included elimination of our fee relief, meaning that over half of that raise would be consumed by our payment of the transportation and health fees.
We counteroffered a proposal with fee relief included as currently is, and an increase of the minimum to an equivalent to that of the University of Michigan ($34,794.00 for twelve-month appointments at a .50 FTE). We chose to base our raise off the University of Michigan because it is currently ranked #3 in the US News and World Report public schools ranking (just two steps ahead of UF). We also reiterated that UF currently pays GAs less than they did in 2017. For a reference, the equivalent for inflation of the twelve-month minimum of the 2017-2020 CBA ($21,333.33) would be $24,104.99 in October 2021 (calculated from July 2017).
The University has heard our arguments and has requested to extend negotiations into the Spring semester to develop a new counterproposal. We know this is hard and that we all hoped to have a stipend increase by the end of the year. However, we believe we have been heard, and that it is in the interest of a higher stipend increase to give the University the necessary time to come up with a counterproposal that ensures taking graduate assistants out of financial hardship. We can think of the following weeks as an investment, by giving our counterpart the chance to meet the needs of some many graduate assistants, and to show we are here to play the long game, making sure the results of this negotiation have a palpable improvement in the quality of life of graduate assistants.
I want to personally thank all the graduate assistants that have answered the survey and attended the bargaining sessions. Your presence in bargaining sessions is very valuable. The more graduate assistants that are present, the more difficult it is for the University to refuse our proposals.
To those who have volunteered to speak and let UF know of your struggles to make ends meet every month, I wanted to thank you especially. Although the Bargaining Committee works extremely hard to represent all GAs in negotiations, your voices and stories are vastly more influential and will likely be essential in the negotiations this Spring.
If you have questions or suggestions about bargaining or would be interested in joining one of our committees, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Finally, I wanted to emphasize what we can achieve together and our strength to fight for better working conditions and stipends in the future. Not too long ago, GAs did not have healthcare among our benefits and together as a union we were able to make it a reality. The future success of both GAs and the University of Florida depend on our commitment to fight for more equitable and fair working conditions for current and future GAs. If we will not fight, nobody else will.
Thank you all, happy holidays and have a relaxing break! I will see you at the bargaining table back in January.
GAU Chief Bargainer
1,048 UF GAs replied to a survey inquiring about their financial stability under their current stipend. The results can be found in the report below.
It is unacceptable that GAs are forced to choose between their basic needs. We are fighting to ensure equitable pay for the labor of graduate assistants!
We were advised during this week's bargaining session that the university may be prohibited from using state funds to provide fee waivers for the health and transportation fees. We are currently waiting for documentation of why state funds cannot be used for waivers and will respond to their informal proposal once we receive it. The university also informally offered to provide GAs this semester a lump sum payment in the form of a check/direct deposit equal to the amount of the health and transportation fees. We anticipate this would be paid as a reimbursement check some time before the end of the year. For Spring 2021 and beyond, this amount would be disbursed across all paychecks, according to the informal proposal.
In the meantime, we recommend not paying your fees immediately. We understand that it may be difficult for some to save for a lump payment in mid-November. The university has advised it will likely extend the deadline for payment to November 20th; we are working to reasonably resolve related fee issues by then and will update you accordingly!
You may also be curious whether the amount owed according to your Bursar account statement is accurate. Our team has done some research and made persistent requests for information related fees calculation from the Bursar. What we've learned is that fees should be at least $81.96 per credit hour for in-person courses and independent/supervised/directed research credits. Fees for courses delivered remotely may be more than $81.96 per credit hour if a distance learning fee is assessed. However, we're told the distance learning fee varied from department to department and college to college. If the amount of fees you owe is more than $81.96 per credit hour and you are taking a course delivered through Zoom, then you are advised to contact your department and college to ask for the amount of any distance learning fees assessed on these courses.
We understand that fee charges in your Bursar account this semester are confusing. Your union is keeping active communication with the Bursar as well as other representatives to make sense of it all. We are starting to get more answers and will keep you informed of new developments as we move forward. Thank you for your patience and stay tuned for more updates soon.
GAU continues to bargain with UF over our health insurance plan, GatorGradCare (GGC). During our October 7th bargaining session, GAU representatives fought to ensure graduate employees in need of expensive care or treatments will not suffer an even greater financial burden in the future.
In response to our tentative acceptance of some changes to the health care plan, UF released a new proposal. You can compare the administration's current proposal from October 7th with their previous proposition from September 30th below.
Of note, the Administration is no longer seeking to increase co-insurance for Tier 2 services from 70/30% to 60/40%. GAU opposed this proposal because it put our most vulnerable GAs at risk. We have also fought increases in the calendar year deductible (CYD). UF proposed increasing the deductible by 100%, from $100 to $200. GAU countered with a 50% increase, from $100 to $150. This deductible does not apply for services with a co-payments, such as doctor visits.
UF's new proposal does not currently account for an increase in monthly premiums. The Administration and GatorCare are still determining what increase they would like to propose. GAU believes small premium increases are a vital way to protect our GAs with chronic illnesses and those who experience life-threatening medical issues.
You can watch our latest bargaining session below to see how GAU fights to protect the health of graduate employees.
Fellow graduate assistants,
GAU is currently bargaining with the administration concerning our health insurance plan, GatorGradCare (GGC). The big issue that we and the administration are contending with is that over the past three years GGC has been operating at a total deficit of $383,369. This, in conjunction with overall rising healthcare costs, means that the UF administration needs to make a deal that saves them money for this program.
They made their proposal this past Wednesday, September 30th. Here are the proposed changes:
This plan makes no increases to GAs monthly premiums, but this is offset with increased costs elsewhere. Most concerning to GAU are the increase in calendar year deductible (CYD) from $100 to $200, the increase in Tier 2 hospital per admission deductibles (PAD) to $1500, the increase in Tier 2 services co-insurance from 70/30% to 60/40%, and a $20 per visit copay for dental services.
GAU opposes this proposal because it puts our most vulnerable GAs at risk. As a group insurance plan, large individual costs for those with chronic illnesses are offset by the premiums of healthier individuals. The UF administration’s offer keeps monthly premiums the same but increases individual costs should emergencies or chronic illnesses arise. This is something we are all hyper aware of during this global pandemic. Therefore, GAU is countering with a plan that removes or reduces the four proposed changes discussed above. We are aware that this will inevitably result in an increase in monthly premiums for GAs across the board. However, we feel that it is important to protect our GAs with chronic illnesses and those who experience life-threatening medical issues, especially since based on our calculations the increased premium amount will be less than 50%.
I understand that health care can be needlessly complex and confusing, which is why GAU held a Health Care Town Hall on September 16th to go over some basic concepts and discuss the options that were previously on the table.
Fellow graduate assistants and allies,
This pandemic presents a choice to all of us. Graduate employees are depending on the University of Florida to institute fair standards and protections due to the disruption of academic and personal life caused by Coronavirus (COVID-19).
3 Ways to Support GAU
Here’s how you can take action:
Call, email, or tweet, President Fuchs and demand that he directs the Office of the Provost to immediately come to an agreement with GAU on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) including the following relief and protections for graduate employees:
As president, Fuchs is responsible for the everyday operations of the University and for setting UF's goals and missions, including protecting its students and workers. Tell him you stand with GAU!
Fellow graduate assistants,
On Wednesday, April 8th, GAU's Bargaining Committee conducted an informational bargaining session on GatorGradCare with the President and Medical Director of GatorCare, Dr. Jill Sumfest. The purpose of the meeting was to receive information on GatorGradCare, so the administration and GAU can effectively negotiate health care coverage for our next collective bargaining agreement.
During the approximately two-hour virtual session, Dr. Sumfest provided detailed information on GatorGradCare's benefits, as well as the plan's medical, pharmacy, and financial performance over the past three years (the length of our contract). A video highlighting GatorGradCare and its current benefits is provided below. Dr. Sumfest also previewed possible benefit changes to GatorGradCare under a 2020-23 contract. Many of these proposed changes would make available benefits provided to other GatorCare members but not yet GatorGradCare members. Increases to premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance were also suggested.
GAU's Bargaining Chair Javier Mesa and members of the Executive Committee pressed Dr. Sumfest on the consequences of the proposed changes, as well as the availability and cost of current benefits, such as online therapy from TalkSpace.
GAU will continue to fight for quality and affordable health care services. Please comment below or send us an email at email@example.com if you have questions or concerns about health insurance.
GAU Bargaining Committee
Fellow graduate assistants,
On Monday, March 30th, GAU's Bargaining Committee conducted an impact bargaining session with UF's administration over the impacts of its emergency measures and mandates during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency. Impact bargaining is the process by which a labor union negotiates with the employer over the impacts of decisions they have made. In this case, GAU is bargaining over the impacts of the University's instructions to graduate employees during the current public health crisis. This includes physical and mental safety, family and child care, access to buildings, materials, and resources, availability of Graduate and Family Housing, compensation for increased work, and COVID-19 testing.
During the virtual bargaining session, which lasted roughly an hour, GAU's Bargaining Chair Javier Mesa presented University administrators with a memorandum of understanding (PDF), which is a document by which two parties can agree to binding terms. Over the course of the session, it became clear that administrators were not ready to come to an agreement. When pressed on his willingness to sign a memorandum of understanding at all, UF's Chief Bargainer Dr. Bill Connellan responded by saying: "Do I think that we're likely to come to a memorandum of understanding? Probably not at the current time."
This is an extraordinary moment for our community and country. GAU will continue to work to represent and protect the interests of graduate employees. GAs deserve better, it's that simple.
Please watch our first impact bargaining session below or on our YouTube channel, and let us know what stands out to you. Is there a specific topic or argument that you believe we missed, a response from the Administration that angered you, or a topic of particular importance to you and your family? We have identified relevant segments below for viewing.
In addition, during bargaining with UFF, Dr. Bill Connellan stated that the University is not responsible for caring for parent-GAs, ignoring the concerns of parent-GAs that they will be unfairly penalized for failing to maintain regular work hours due to caring for a child at home, a loved one, or themselves.
Please comment below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear your feedback. We are your union, your voice.
GAU Bargaining Committee
Collective bargaining is the process by which labor unions negotiate with employers to reach a contract on terms of employment, including salary, health care, benefits, and workplace safety. Each year, GAU bargains with UF over such terms.