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Voting to commence on GAU contract

Voting opens Tuesday on a contract that, if ratified, could raise the minimum pay rate and lower health benefit costs, while standardizing the evaluation process for graduate assistants.

Earlier this month, representatives from the Graduate Assistant Union (GAU) and the Board of Trustees agreed on the language of the annual re-opening of the contract, which runs through 2008 and governs pay, benefits and evaluation standards for the University’s graduate assistants, teaching assistants and research assistants.

However, it must be ratified by both an open vote of all in-unit assistants and a separate vote by the BOT.

Once ratified, the contract would raise the minimum stipend received by graduate assistants from around $7,800 per semester to $8,100, while raising the doctoral level assistants’ minimum from $8,580 to $9,580. The contract could also increase the percentage that USF pays of each assistant’s health benefits.

The University, which currently pays 50 percent of the premium, would begin paying 75 percent. This, according to GAU co-president Jason Simms, could be particularly helpful for international students who are required to be covered by health insurance.

“Health costs and fees, combined, are a big drain on resources of graduate workers at the beginning of each semester,” Simms said.

Though negotiators from GAU sought to reduce these fees, the issue was tabled, and both sides agreed to form a joint committee, Simms said. The committee would look into the plausibility of deferring these costs throughout the semester, taking a small percentage of each paycheck received by assistants to reduce the impact they feel at the beginning of every semester.

Also included in the contract is a revision in the article concerning graduate assistant evaluations. Though currently there is a suggested University-wide framework for assessments, the standards vary departmentally. The new system would standardize the evaluation process across all departments, while including an assessment of academic progress.

Voting is open to all graduate, teaching and research assistants and will take place in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.