Graduate assistant union starts its bargaining

During the first of three scheduled bargaining sessions with administrators, USF’s graduate assistants’ union asked for a waiver of all tuition and fees paid by graduate assistants, an increase in minimum-pay rate and full health care coverage for those who elect to use the University’s health care plan.

Representatives from Graduate Assistants United (GAU), the union for USF’s 1,700 graduate assistants, said insufficient data made it difficult to determine exactly how many graduate assistants the proposals would affect and how much the University would need to shell out to cover it all. Their rough estimations, however, placed the total cost at around $1.5 million to $2 million.

Administrators representing the Board of Trustees proposed more standardization and enforcement when departments evaluate GAs on their progress toward the completion of their masters or doctoral degree.

“We understand that it’s unlikely for our initial proposals to be accepted outright by administrators, but bargaining is a give and take process,” GAU co-president Jason Simms said. “We’ll both go back and consider these revisions, and then go from there. It’s a waiting game now.”

The two sides will reconvene April 27 with counter-proposals and better estimates of the financial costs of changes and the number of students affected.

“When you’re talking about money, you have to look at what’s available and what we can afford,” said Kofi Glover, associate provost and lead bargainer for the BOT. “We will study their revisions and have a response for them.”

GAU co-president Abe Stern pointed to the difference between the $170 million in wages the University pays out to faculty and the $12 million garnered by GAs as justification for GAUs proposals.

“Faculty salaries and benefits amount to tens of millions of dollars,” Stern said. “What we’re asking is really small potatoes for the University. It’s just a matter of whether or not they want to do it.”