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USF, GAU settle new contract

During the first bargaining session with administration on Jan. 24, GAU began advocating for wage increases and health care coverage. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

Long months of bargaining sessions came to an end as USF and the Graduate Assistants Union (GAU) reached an agreement on Aug. 13 to sign a new contract for the 2020-2021 academic year.

In the one-year memorandum of understanding, the university agreed to cover an additional $15.90 on health insurance premiums, leaving GAs to pay $159 per year. 

“Naturally, we’re disappointed that we couldn’t win stipend increases or fee relief, but at least GAs won’t be subjected to a 170 percent increase in health insurance premiums during the pandemic,” GAU wrote in a statement on social media.

In previous years, USF covered the full amount of health insurance premiums for graduate assistants but, as a result of rising costs, the university issued a cap in fall 2019, leaving GAs to pay $159, or 6 percent of the total cost of the health insurance premiums, per year.

Without the memorandum, a subsidy plan sponsored by USF would have paid up to $2,477.48 per person of the student annual premium, however, it would have left GAs responsible for covering the remaining annual premium of $437.52 for the 2020-2021 academic year.

“If we couldn’t have reached an agreement by the date that we did, then that amount would have been charged to our accounts because the cap that was in place last year and up until last year would have stayed in place so that we wouldn’t have been able to reach a different agreement to make that change before,” GAU Co-President Elizabeth Kiebel said.

The next bargaining session is on Feb. 19. Besides the insurance premium coverage, GAU has been bargaining for fee reliefs and increased stipends during past sessions.

For Kiebel, the agreement does not cover all of GAU’s demands, but it is a step in the right direction.  

“We wanted a lot more going into it, obviously,” Kiebel said. “Certainly wishes that the university would have agreed to at least cover our fee but it’s what we asked for at the last bargaining session. However, we did sign the agreement, and for the next year, we feel like we’re OK with where things are.”