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
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.