USF’s graduate assistant labor union elected its executive structure and considered the future direction of union efforts Friday, as it looks toward collective bargaining for its new contract this spring.
Friday marked the first official meeting in more than a year of the graduate assistants’ labor union, Graduate Assistants United. GAU has gone through a period of reorganization, galvanizing around upcoming collective bargaining agreements in the spring and a controversial decision by the graduate school administration to increase the minimum course load for full-time graduate students, which was later deemed voluntary.
“The University administration is the best organization tool. When very large issues like this happen, it really brings graduate assistants together because we understand ourselves as a community,” said Sarah Dykins-Callahan, the organizing chair for GAU.
Dykins-Callahan said about 10 percent of the 1,600 graduate assistants who qualify for GAU membership joined the organization.
On June 30, former Interim Associate Provost and Graduate School Dean Kelli McCormack Brown sent out a directive mandating that all graduate assistants increase their credit hours from nine to 12 to maintain their status as full-time students. Without full-time status, graduate students lose their 80 percent tuition waiver and health care benefits.
On Sept. 6, after much controversy and many talks with representatives from GAU and the GAU’s parent union, the United Faculty of Florida, the new Associate Provost and Graduate School Dean Delcie Durham changed the increase from mandatory to optional.
The main purpose of Friday’s meeting was elections, said newly elected GAU co-president Jason Simms. Because the seven candidates for office were all running unopposed, the elections were just a formality. Some of the officers elected worked for the GAU in an official capacity during the credit-hour controversy. Dykins-Callahan began working as the GAU organizing chair last spring semester.
In addition to the seven candidates running for offices, only four other GAU members showed up for the conference. However, the turnout did not surprise GAU leadership, said Daniel Blaeuer, who was elected treasurer during the meeting.
“It is a union that is developing in a lot of ways,” Blaeuer said. “The presence of a union here and the presence of a union that is involved with the students is newly emerging. In that sense the turnout was healthy.”
Additionally, the meeting was intended to serve more as a business function than a rallying one, said Blaeuer, who expects to build upon Friday night’s meeting by incorporating more of the student body into GAU.
Dykins-Callahan shared Blaeuer’s optimism.
“I’m extremely excited about where we’re going,” Dykins-Callahan said. “We have a very strong leadership at the moment. We’re going to continue organizing. We’re going to continue with our membership drives. But more importantly, we need active individuals who are going to contribute their time, their energy and their passion to the organization.”