Graduate students get a raise

A new contract agreement between the Graduate Assistants Union and USF management should raise minimum pay and offer new benefits for graduate students this fall semester.

“What we have done in the contract is set the minimum, the least that graduate students can be paid,” said Noreen Segrest, chief negotiator for USF. “Departments can pay more, but they must pay at least the minimum, and what we’ve done is raised the minimum.”

Nearly a year in the making, the contract is designed to improve the livelihood of graduate assistants.

“We’ve got some graduate students that qualify for food stamps,” said graduate student and co-president of GAU Ana Bass.

According to a USF press release, the contract will raise minimum stipends for full-time graduate assistants from $7,500 to $7,800, and stipends for full-time doctorate assistants from $7,500 to $8,850.

“It’s a document that will protect the rights of working people here on campus,” said E.J. Ford, a graduate student and co-president of GAU. “And the benefits will extend beyond graduate assistants. If their rights are protected, then you’ll also see protections for every other contract for employees on this campus.”

Graduate assistants working part-time, or 10 hours per week, will also see a raise in pay. For these students, the minimum stipend will be exactly half that of a full-time assistant’s stipend.

Since many graduate assistants are struggling at the existing minimum, an increase will be well-received.

“Almost 1,000 students who are presently working at the minimum will receive a raise,” Ford said. “That’s better than half the number of total graduate assistants on campus.”

Of all the new contract’s features, the most progressive addition centers on health insurance benefits.

“If we could get health benefits, that would be worth double the increase in pay,” said coastal research assistant David Tidwell, “because knowing that you can go to a doctor with a low co-pay, without having to cough up all of the money or rely on your parents, would be great.”

Included in the contract for the first time are healthcare benefits for assistants working full-time. Under this contract, students who select USF health insurance will be awarded coverage up to $600, Ford said.

As graduate assistants are recognized and rewarded for their hard work and expertise, the university becomes more attractive.

“It’s very important for the university because the best quality graduate students like to go to the institution where they feel like the institution cares for them, where they feel like they’ll be taken care of and where it will be possible for them to make a living while they’re engaging in their undergraduate studies,” Ford said. “If (management) wants to get the very best graduate students to come over here, they need to have graduate assistants available that are competitive with schools all over the globe.”

Within the next few months, the contract should be ratified.

“If the collective bargaining agreement is approved by both the GAU and the BOT, what we’ve negotiated would be effective August 5 of this year,” Segrest said.

Aside from directly affecting graduate students, the ratification of the new contract will benefit other areas.