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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Graduate assistants rally to increase wages, improve contracts

UF’s Graduate Assistants United is fighting to spread awareness about the need for an improved contract.

They’re bargaining to end graduate assistant fees, provide health care like dental and vision insurance and guarantee medical leave and child care for their families, according to a news release.

Graduate assistants help professors while they complete their education. They must pay fees to the university, even though their workloads increase and their stipends remain the same, according to the release.

GAU co-president Graham Picklesimer said the union asked the university last month to increase minimum wage for graduate assistants.

Picklesimer said the chief negotiator for UF said there was no money in the budget.

“It’s pocket change,” he said in reference to the wage increase.

A statement from Paula Fussell, vice president for human resource services, stated that university representatives continue to meet with GAU members to discuss issues with the contract.

“As you know, the university is experiencing difficult budget times but remains committed to open discussions surrounding issues important to our graduate students,” the statement read.

Also, many graduate assistants do not receive family medical leave, Picklesimer said. Family medical leave only applies for graduate assistants who work 1,250 hours or more a year. However, graduate assistants’ hours have been cut, sometimes down to 1,000 hours a year, hindering them from receiving benefits, he said.

Sarah Taber, 29, said she makes less money now than she did as a doctoral student.

Taber found out she was pregnant shortly after starting her assistantship at UF about four years ago. She said there is a three- to six- month window during which new mothers often need family medical leave, but it was not provided to her.

“I’ve had a couple female colleagues drop out,” she said.

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GAU co-president José Soto said some graduate assistants make below the poverty level for wages, which is $11,170 for a household of one, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines.

“We are not here to demand anything that is unrealistic,” Soto said. “We [can] conserve The Gator Nation with better health care. We can provide that, but we need the bargaining contract to come through.”

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