Graduate assistants seek better working conditions

Graduate assistants are going to bargain with administration for better working conditions tomorrow. It will be their second such meeting of the 2015-16 school year. The meeting is open to all those who would like to attend. Special to the Oracle

If a graduate student (GA) at USF seems to teach a course grudgingly, it may have something to do with the fact that, as of August 2014, the university can — and does — pay them as little as $9,880 per nine-month period of employment. 

Tomorrow, USF Graduate Assistant Union (USF-GAU) co-president and GA in the philosophy department, Megan Flocken, along with other members of USF-GAU will sit down to bargain with the university’s chief negotiator and bargaining team for better benefits.

USF-GAU currently has three main issues to address: raising the minimum GA wage, guaranteed tuition waivers and fee reimbursement. 

“The employment contract that we generate as a union for all graduate assistants is called the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” Flocken said. “It puts into place all of the conditions of employment for some 2,200 graduate students on USF campus. The number of hours you work, the wage that you receive, whether you get health insurance benefits, how much paid leave you receive, when you can be fired and how much notice your employer needs to give you.”

Flocken said most classes taught and research done at the university are done by GAs. She also said graduate student income is currently below the poverty line. As such, part of the discussion on Friday will focus on raising the minimum GA wage — $12.67 for master’s degree-seekers and $14.30 for doctoral candidates. 

“Number one is that we are in a crisis … what that (figure) amounts to is poverty levels, even for a one person household. But many of our GAs have children, have dependents,” Flocken said. “Really, just with federal standard, that puts us below the poverty line. We’re looking for an annual raise to keep up with inflation, as well as a minimum raise because most of our GAs are making minimum and they need to be brought above the poverty line.”

GAU’s second main point is for tuition waivers. While it is common practice for GAs to have tuition waived for nine credit hours during the fall and spring semesters and waiving six credit hours during summer semester, it’s not a guarantee.

“That has been the common practice, 100 percent, for our history and we feel that with the new business model with the university, we just want to make sure that benefit is not under threat,” Flocken said.

As students of the university, GAs currently pay fees such as the Activity and Service fee, as well as lab fees. Flocken said these fees cost GAs about $700 to $800 a year, which is about 12 percent of their current income.

“What we’re looking for is a reimbursement for those fees for the employees of the university who also have to be students,” Flocken said.

An additional topic to be included in the discussion is proper advanced warning to write a syllabus or gather supplies. Flocken said GAs often only receive notice a week before they have to walk into a classroom to teach.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be will be the second meeting between GAU and the university. The first took place in June, when GAU was told by the administration that since the state budget was not yet set, they had to wait to present their position until the legislative budget was set.

Vice Provost for Human Resources and Space Planning Kofi Glover served as chief negotiator during the first meeting, and Flocken said he has a good history of working with GAU to ensure employment conditions. However, about a month ago, it was announced he would not have the same role during upcoming meeting.

“To be honest, it does make us a little apprehensive of what sort of ethics the administration has now adopted,” Flocken said. “We don’t know that it will be worse — we don’t know that it would change — but the climate of the university and the financial decision-making that has been going on … makes us a little bit nervous.”