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Elena Rubino, a 26-year-old doctoral candidate, posts a graduate student’s complaint about what she had to give up in order to pay her graduate school fees on an alligator-shaped board on the Plaza of the Americas as part of the Graduate Assistants United’s Chomp Out Fees campaign. Rubino, who studies in the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment as well as in the UF Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, said she can’t go home to New Jersey for Thanksgiving because she is tight for money.

Emma Green / Alligator Staff

A graduate-assistants labor union stood outside with a sign labeled “UF Annual Salaries” in bold font as they advocated for lower fees.

The sign read “Graduate assistants minimum stipend: $13K,” “Fuchs (president): $860K.”

Graduate Assistants United set up a table on the Plaza of the Americas on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to tell students about the additional fees graduate assistants have to pay UF. The union will be on the plaza at the same time for the rest of the week so graduate assistants can write what they cannot afford because of fees, which make up 10 to 20 percent of their annual salaries.

On Friday at 4 p.m., they will deliver the messages to UF President Kent Fuchs’ house.

The GAU members set up a cardboard alligator cutout with the phrase, “The Greedy Gator ate my…” and taped responses to it.

“Flights home,” someone wrote. “Pay rent.” “Lunch money.”

Constanza Rios, a 40-year-old graduate assistant, said she can’t afford to buy her 14-year-old daughter a new laptop because the fees she pays are too high. The holidays are a reminder that money is always tight, she said.

“I think it’s very important to bring awareness of the economic hardship we are facing this time of the year,” she said. “We’re totally broke.”

Fuchs has said many positive things to the union, but he hasn’t made a lot of change, said Sebastian Sclofsky, the organizing chair for GAU. So the organization plans to force him to act by confronting him with the messages.

“Fees is something that affects us deeply,” he said. “It’s a huge burden for GAs, especially the ones at the lower pay scale.”

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes wrote in an email Tuesday that UF is aware of the union’s concern for lower fees. Previous negotiations have helped offset their fees, she said.

“Any continued progress on this issue will be balanced with other needs in terms of Grad Assistant pay,” she said.

Although Sclofsky believes the administrators are paid fairly, he said the salaries of graduate assistants don’t come close to reflecting the amount of work they put in.

The 39-year-old graduate assistant said if UF wants to be a top-10 public university, the administration should give graduate assistants fee cuts like universities that are currently ranked at that level.

In January, graduate assistants will be able to negotiate their contracts, which can only happen every three years. The union plans to argue for lower fees, starting with the protest.

“We always have hope that the university will take a bolder step to relieve the fees,” he said.

GAU has been able to bargain with the university for fee-relief measures in the past, which Sclofsky said shows the university recognizes the issue.

“I’m hopeful that President Fuchs will take a step forward and help us find a solution to this problem,” he said.

Paige Fry is the Alligator's UF administration writer. Send tips, comments and feedback to [email protected]