The USF graduate assistants’ union is back in action, and it’s stronger than ever.

Facing a dwindling membership in months past, Graduate Assistants United embarked on an ambitious errand: Go office-to-office and find members. That campaign has apparently been successful, as the GAU now boasts 140 members, up from “nearly zero,” according to GAU co-president Jason Simms. The only question remaining is what the GAU will ask USF administrators for at its negotiations today.

The Oracle doesn’t know the answer to that: The union won’t tell.

But that’s not an indictment. There are a host of acceptable reasons why a union could choose not to outline its expectations to the media. Even without knowing its requests, one thing remains clear: It is in USF’s best interest to listen to the GAU.

After all, it’s not as though USF’s administrators have been batting a thousand with the faculty’s concerns lately. Numerous regrettable foul-ups have occurred in the University’s ongoing negotiations with the United Faculty of Florida, most dealing with USF’s disclosure of certain information, such as the accidental sending of an e-mail that “exposed” UFF chief negotiator Robert Welker as a financially-interested party – even though Welker isn’t required to be disinterested – and the deleting of e-mails from e-mail servers in order to correct the mistake. The upcoming talks with the GAU are another chance for USF to show it can competently handle a meeting between administrators and faculty for a change.

Judging from its Web site and interviews with the Oracle, the union isn’t after anything extravagant: a more competitive health care program for graduate assistants in order to bring USF’s benefits in line with the University of Florida’s. The minimum pay rate, as well, will be an issue: Although it’s comparable to other schools, unions are in the business of improving the employment terms of their members. USF needs to be ready to start talking about what will happen regarding pay after the GAU’s current employment contract ends in 2008.

Most of all, however, USF should be prepared to not make the same mistakes with the GAU that it’s been making with the UFF. Such mistakes don’t help USF or its unions, and they besmirch the competence of the University. The upcoming talks with the GAU could be the “fresh start” USF needs to remake its image in terms of management/labor relations. It would be wise to capitalize on the opportunity.