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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Stipend talks between GAU, UF delayed past June deadline

Out of the 26 articles needed to be agreed upon by both the Graduate Assistants United labor union and UF for their three-year contract, only one remains.

Graduate assistant student’s pay, a critical piece of GAU and UF’s contract, had an initial deadline of June 30. Disappointed by UF’s “placeholder” counterproposal from last week, GAU agreed to push past the deadline to reach a final agreement on stipends after nearly 2 months.

Negotiations for the three-year contract have been in the works for more than 6 months. Graduate student stipends have been negotiated on since May.

At a June 27 meeting at Pugh Hall, UF’s Chief bargainer Bill Connellan said he put down a “placeholder” counterproposal and asked GAU for an additional couple of weeks so that UF could finalize an official counterproposal.

Connellan’s team and GAU agreed to meet July 13.

“We have to figure out how to put together a package that makes sense,” Connellan said. “It’s a very complicated package.”

GAU spokesperson Charles Shields said the union intentionally left stipend talks for later — putting down their first proposal in May — because they understood UF would first need the State Legislature to set a budget before talking pay for graduate assistants. But since Gov. Rick Scott approved the state budget June 2, Shields said he’s unsure of what’s causing UF’s current delay.

“The budget’s been signed, the budget’s done, everything’s in place,” the 30-year-old UF political science doctoral candidate said. “Now, I don’t know what’s taking them so long.”

GAU’s proposal to UF included an increase from the minimum stipend of $15,000 a year to $16,000 for a 20-hour graduate assistant work week. Shield said the proposal also requests an additional $800 stipend raise for each graduate assistant and that both pay raises would begin Aug. 1 rather than the traditional Jan. 1 start date.

Although the “placeholder” counterproposal Connellan and UF introduced June 27 outlined a Jan. 1 start date to raises. Shields said there was no increase in the minimum stipend and only a $610 stipend raise for each graduate assistant.

“We obviously were not going to accept that offer,” Shields said. “It didn’t really address any of our concerns.”

GAU has repeatedly said that for the nearly 4,000 UF graduate-student employees within the union, the issue of stipends would be one of the most contentious articles to negotiate, second to health care.

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Connellan said the purpose of introducing the counterproposal was to gauge which parts of the stipend issue were most pressing.

“(We wanted) to indicate the areas where they were very interested and what we were willing to do in the format that they were talking about,” Connellan said.

As of now, stipends is the last main article UF and GAU need to reach a tentative agreement on. The contract’s other 26 articles all have tentative agreements, with the exception of the definitions article, which Shields said is typically left last and is not of concern.

GAU tried to also get Summer coverage for graduate assistants who graduate in Spring, but Shields said after a lot of back and forth they realized there wouldn’t be a feasible way to accomplish this because GatorGradCare is strictly employer-based.

“There’s just no provision that makes it legal for (the university) as they’re constructed to continue providing employer-based health insurance to people who are no longer employees,” he said.

With the new contract still in negotiations past June 30, the old contract remains in effect because both parties have agreed to continue negotiating, he said.

Once tentative agreements are reached on all 26 articles, GAU will organize a referendum for graduate assistants to vote and approve the new GAU-UF contract, which will last through July 2020, according to Alligator archives.

Stipends is the one article that is negotiated every year, he said.

Shields said this year is his third stipends negotiation he’s been involved with since joining the bargaining team in 2015. The past two stipends talks, he said, did not go past deadline, though they’ve always come close.

He’s confident they can reach a final agreement at the next meeting, but he said GAU won’t rule anything out.

“We’re going to see what they come up with by July 13,” he said.


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