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Graduate assistant bargaining resumes

Negotiations resumed Wednesday between USF Graduate Assistants United (USF-GAU) and university officials.

Though nothing was officially settled, USF Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Adam Freeman said the progress toward the 2014-17 graduate assistant collective bargaining agreement was positive and productive.

USF-GAU co-president Josh Lenes, however, said what was accomplished depends on one’s definition of progress.

“The university came back with nothing for the graduate assistants, not a single penny,” he said.

In June, the first bargaining meeting revolved heavily around three key issues. The USF-GAU proposed higher wages, reduced student fees and an unpaid leave policy.

Of these, the university negotiators only tentatively agreed Wednesday to allowing unpaid leave for up to six weeks in the event of serious issues, such as childbirth or critical medical conditions.

While graduate assistants appreciate an unpaid leave policy, Lenes said it is not enough to close negotiations. 

“That was something that we expected given it was on the table for years now,” he said.

What Lenes did not expect was a proposal by university negotiators Wednesday for USF-GAU to require members to re-apply for union cards every semester. 

Typically, when graduate assistants join the union, they remain members as long as they continue to hold their position. 

“I have never heard of any university doing this,” he said. “We have a term for this: Union busting.”

Lenes said the inconvenience could only weaken USF-GAU membership.

“They know that there’s a threat in us getting organized around these issues,” he said.

With nothing finalized, both parties will re-evaluate their positions before reconvening. 

Freeman said university representatives value graduate assistants and recognize the importance of their teaching and research for the university.

“The negotiating team looks forward to continuing these discussions soon,” he said.

There is no set date for the next negotiations meeting.