Are you a grad student? Graduate Assistants United wants you!
WHO WE ARE
Graduate Assistants United (GAU) is the labor union that represents the University of Florida’s approximately 4,000 graduate assistants (GAs). GAU’s members are students, but as GAs we also teach up to half of all classes in a given semester. In addition to teaching and conducting much of the research that makes UF a top ten public university, GAs also comprise an important workforce.
One of the nation’s first graduate student labor unions, GAU ratified our first contract in 1983. Now, as then, our work is inspired by a firm belief in the collective project of higher education. To give students at UF a preeminent education, we need to ensure the best possible working conditions for all employees, including GAs. This, in turn, allows us to complete our studies and research.
GAU has made significant progress in improving workplace conditions for UF GAs. We have fought for and won healthcare, a minimum stipend and yearly pay raises, relief from fees and many important employee protections including a uniform grievance process for GAs whose contracts may have been violated.
We are, above all, a collective of co-workers. In this sense, GAU makes our own working conditions, because that is precisely what we owe to ourselves and to each other.
GAU is committed to maintaining a collaborative and productive relationship with UF administration. After all, many of our goals are the same. Yet, GAs are still laborers whose work turns a significant profit for UF, and this inevitably puts us at odds on some matters. We want UF to better itself by supporting the workers who make it a preeminent institution in the first place. Our gains are only won because student workers organize and struggle together.
This year, GAU and UF opened for renegotiation our entire collective bargaining agreement, which stipulates the terms of our employment, and UF’s responsibilities as our employer. Significantly, this renegotiation includes the terms and conditions of GatorGradCare, the health insurance package offered to all GAs, and stipends and raises. These are contentious items because they are costly. But our argument is simply this: If UF wants to build on its preeminent status, its employees need to be paid accordingly and offered competitive benefits.
GAU organized rallies and bargained for months to negotiate down the reduction of sizeable deductibles and new premiums that UF wanted to implement. GAU is pleased to say GatorGradCare will remain a viable plan for the foreseeable future.
After much delay over the summer, GAU and UF recently resumed negotiations over minimum stipends and raises. This article is still under negotiation, but we have pushed UF to accept our stipend increase and compromise on raises.
GAU has made important gains, yet many of our members still live in poverty. GAU is committed to reducing the inequity within our unit by prioritizing gains at the very bottom. Recently, for example, we won flat raises, replacing the university’s favored percentage raises. Percentage increases certainly benefit the highest paid GAs, but they do very little for the lowest paid. GAU is firmly committed to eliminating this inequality within our bargaining unit.
If GAU bargains on behalf of members and non-members alike, then why should new GAs join their union? Florida is a right- to- work state, which means employees cannot be compelled to pay dues to a union. This legislation weakens solidarity among workers and favors the University’s coffers, not its employees. We gain strength when we unite as union members. Each GA who joins amplifies our voice when it comes time to bargain with the University. The most effective way to win further benefits and pay gains is to have a strong GA membership to back up our bargaining team.
Whether you are new to GAU or a long-time member, there are many ways to contribute. In addition to bargaining, volunteers can help with initiatives related to healthcare, childcare, mental health and more. There are also opportunities to become a representative of GAU within your home department. All these opportunities can be found on our website. This fall, 160 new members joined GAU. If you are not yet a member, we warmly invite you to join with us as our colleague, co-worker and friend. •
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