Graduate assistants may get new contract

By Gus Bode

A new contract could govern the terms and benefits of all graduate assistantships at the university if approved by the Board of Trustees at their Thursday meeting.

The contract was negotiated between the university and GA United, the graduate assistant union, over a period of 10 months. It would apply to all of the university’s approximately 1,650 graduate assistants, said Union President Ron Fields. However, Fields said only about 100 of those students are members of the union, with only about 50 people voting to ratify the contract at meetings on Dec. 7 and 10.

GA United formed in September 2006 after 248 of 360 graduate assistants voted to unionize.

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Fields said he and fewer than 10 volunteers negotiated on behalf of the graduate assistants to obtain terms for the new contract, which would apply retroactively to July 2007 and continues until July 2010.

Among other provisions, the contract would call for 3-, 6- and 4-percent raises over the next three years. A “no strike” clause would prevent graduate assistants from striking. Additionally, the minimum number of credit hours graduate assistants must be enrolled in would increase from six to eight.

However, Fields said the university originally intended to increase minimum credit hours from six to nine. The union negotiated the lower number, as well as an exception clause under which graduate assistants could appeal the minimum course load to the director of graduate students.

Fields said another of the contract’s provisions was a partial reimbursement of the Primary Health Care fee for graduate assistants. The contract calls for a 25 percent reimbursement of the $171 fee in 2009 and a 50 percent reduction in 2010.

Though the fee is subject to change each year, current rates would result in a refund of approximately $43 and $86, respectively.

David Wilson, director of the graduate school and primary negotiator for the university, said the contract offered benefits for both sides.

“I think under the circumstances, everybody made out in a good position. The university was in a very tight budgetary position now and over the next couple of years,” Wilson said. “There was not a whole lot of give in terms of budgetary matters.”

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Charles Groce said he saw no positive aspects of the contract.

Groce, a graduate assistant who is not a member of the union, said rising student fees would cancel out the salary increases mentioned in the contract.

He said he believed the union sacrificed student interests and did not assume a strong position against rising student fees.

“(The union) has refused to take a stand against the administration on fees,” Groce said. “I think the rise of fees and other issues – like the lack of quality health care and lack of coverage for the spouses of graduate assistants – the union hasn’t addressed these issues publicly.”

Fields said the union’s negotiating power was hampered by its low membership.

“There have not been enough people standing up, joining in, marching with us and coming to the meetings,” Fields said. “If we’d had more members, we could have gotten a much better contract.”

Fields attributed the small percentage of union members to voter apathy.

In order to join the union, graduate assistants must pay $85.38 per semester. The university withdraws this money from student paychecks in monthly increments, Fields said.

He said the union would begin negotiations for its next contract with the university in Jan. 2010.

Allison Petty can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 259 or [email protected]

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