The good, the bad, and the union-busting: Notes from our second bargaining session

Last Wednesday, USF-GAU members packed SVC2070 for our second bargaining session. That union members filled nearly every available seat in the room is a testament to the urgency that our issues demand, and to the attention that GA’s deserve. Unfortunately, USF does not think our issues deserve their attention, and is unwilling to acknowledge our contributions to its success.

At our last bargaining session, we presented the administration with proposals on salary raises, fee waivers, and unpaid leave. What better way, we thought, to thank GA’s for their contributions than to reward them with a modest raise, and relief from employee fees. By their own admission, USF had a record legislative session this year, and has seen increased revenue through annual tuition increases for 3 of the last 4 years. The hard work of faculty and graduate assistants means that the university now ranks 12th in the nation for granted U.S. patents.

While the University tentatively agreed to some of our proposals, such as changes to letters of appointment, non-reappointment provisions, and unpaid leave, they offered no raises whatsoever and no relief from fees. They also proposed what we consider to be a very hostile proposal that would limit the ability of GAU to grow its membership. The details of each proposal, and their relative impacts, are below:

The Good

  • Unpaid Leave: The university tentatively agreed to a proposal that would allow Graduate Assistants to take up to 6 weeks of unpaid leave, without losing their health care or tuition waiver. This proposal has been on the table for the last three years, and we are that the university has finally caught up with other Florida Universities who share in this benefit.
  • Reasons for Non-Reappointment: A GA who receives a written notice of non-reappointment shall be entitled to receive a reason for non-reappointment upon written request within 20 days of receiving the notice. This means that GA’s can no longer be non-reappointed for no reason at all. GA’s deserve to at least know why they are being non-reappointed.
  • Eligibility for Health Insurance: The university must provide a statement on a GA’s letter of appointment notifying them that they are eligible for the health insurance premium subsidy (currently 100%for >.25 FTE’s).
  • Other provisions: The university also tentatively agreed to provide GAU with Office Space, additional release time for contract enforcement, and to release digital copies of campus e-mail addresses for the bargaining unit.

The Bad

  • Raises in Salary: The university rejected our proposal for a $700 raise in stipend, repeating the raise allocated by the legislature last year. Instead the University proposed no raise whatsoever for graduate assistants. Despite a 4% raise for faculty last week, and a record legislative year, the University’s actions suggest that graduate assistants played no role whatsoever in their success. The university thinks that graduate students are worth nothing while administrators have enjoyed generous raises this year. The union rejected their $0 counter-proposal, which means that USF will reconsider their offer before our next bargaining session.
  • Relief from Fees: The university refused to bargain a fee waiver, claiming that fees are a student issue and not an employee issue. In doing so, they completely ignored our arguments that fees make USF less competitive and less attractive to prospective graduate assistants.

The Union-Busting

  • Reinstatement of Dues: At the last bargaining session, we submitted a proposal that would allow the union to reclaim members who were inadvertently dropped from the bargaining unit due to a grant or fellowship when they return to the unit. To do so, we proposed that the union could furnish a list of members who are in-unit and had not resigned to to have their dues deductions reinstated.
  • Instead, the university counter-proposed that members could only have their dues reinstated when they return to the unit at the request of the member.  When a member signs a membership card, they are agreeing to become members for as long as they are a GA, and not merely for one semester. The university knows that we have become stronger year after year, and they know that the only way they can stop us is to cripple our ability to organize our members. This is a cowardly anti-union proposal that we consider to be openly hostile, unfriendly, and disrespectful to the collective bargaining process.
  • Instead of listening attentively to the concerns of GA’s about their standard of living, the university would like to silence us by crippling our ability to organize. 

What’s next?

  • We’re not done yet. We haven’t agreed to the University’s proposals on salaries and fees, and we absolutely won’t accept an offer that ignores the important contributions that GA’s make.
  • We’re getting organized: The increased presence at bargaining meetings is a testament to our union’s strength, and shows that when we speak with a strong, united voice, we wield tremendous power. Talk to your colleagues about bargaining, and let them know what their university thinks of them. Ask them to become a member, and to go with you to the next bargaining session! The next bargaining session should be standing room only!
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