Graduate assistants vote for increased pay, health benefits

Late nights of grading homework, developing lesson plans and working in the lab will soon pay more for graduate students at USF.

On Tuesday, members of the Graduate Assistants Union (GAU) voted on changes to the article of their collective bargaining contract concerning stipend amounts and healthcare coverage. The changes will give all graduate, teaching and research assistants increased pay and healthcare plan subsidies.

Christy Foust, co-president of GAU, said the changes are expected to pass without problem.

“We are expecting, after the vote is finalized tomorrow, that the changes will be approved,” Foust said. “There hasn’t really been anyone who is opposed to making more money or getting more health care coverage.”

Assistants working 10 hours a week will receive a $350 stipend increase and those who work 20 hours a week will receive a $700 increase, said Foust. Previously, some assistants were required to pay around $2,000 in health insurance premiums, but the changes to the contract will ensure any assistant working more than 10 hours a week will receive full coverage at no cost to them.

“The idea is if you aren’t making as much money, then they should take care of your premiums,” Foust said.

Vice Provost of Human Resources and Facilities Kofi Glover, who served as the university representative for GAU. He said changes like these are important for making the university attractive to graduate students.

“The Board of Trustees understands that research institutions must compete for top-level graduates,” Glover said. “Offering better stipends and benefits are things we must do to be attractive in a very competitive field.”

Once the changes to the contract are ratified, they will be presented to the Board of Trustees for final approval. Because collective bargaining for these changes has already occurred, Glover said the changes will be approved and implemented by the BOT.

Every year, GAU collectively bargains with the Board on specific contract articles. Every three years, the BOT and GAU are required to renegotiate the entirety of the contract. While graduates will see changes for this year, Glover said nothing is ever set in stone.

“Negotiations are always ongoing,” Glover said. “If for some reason premiums go up, we can relook at the benefits package.”

The contract changes are expected to benefit more than 2,000 graduate students at the university.