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Sunday, November 28, 2021

After UF proposed a new, more expensive health care plan to its graduate assistants, they quickly pushed back.

UF presented the proposed plan on Jan. 30 to Graduate Assistants United, which represents graduate assistants and negotiates their contracts with the university. The proposed contract, part of the graduate assistants’ overall contract renegotiated every three years, includes a $10 monthly premium and would increase copays for some services, said Charles Shields, GAU’s communications chair.

In their counterproposal sent March 6, the union reversed all changes and sent back the original plan, Shields said.

“It was kind of a ballsy move on our part to make a counterproposal that didn’t move in their direction at all,” he said. “But we kind of wanted to make a statement about where we stand on this.”

Shields said there are about 4,000 graduate assistants at UF.

Bobby Mermer, GAU’s health care chair, said if students can’t pay for the insurance they may be forced to drop out of school.

“It’s not so much about the plan being rich, it would be one of the best plans if we all made 50, 60, 70,000 (dollars) a year, but we’re not, and that’s the key,” he said.

Mermer said GAU needs more information to decide the best deal for graduate students. He said increasing costs will make it more expensive for students who are pregnant, have cancer, diabetes or HIV/AIDS.

“This is something you want to go at with a scalpel, not a sledge-hammer, which is what their proposal currently does,” Mermer said.

Bill Connellan, UF’s chief bargainer, said the proposals address that graduate students are using the program more than expected. The inclusion of premiums would help cover about half of the million-dollar deficit.

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Connellan said premiums would spread costs of expensive procedures, such as chemotherapy, between all graduate students, so some wouldn’t have to pay more for costly treatments.

He said the current graduate student plan is one of the best offered through the university.

“It’s better than what we have as faculty and staff, is it not?” Connellan said.

Shields said contract negotiations continue through March, and the union and UF are trying to decide the health care portion by April 15. The hard deadline for negotiations is June 30.

Contact Romy Ellenbogen at and follow her on Twitter at @romyellenbogen

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