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Sunday, June 26, 2022

UF agrees to cover health and transportation fees for graduate assistants

On August 10, GAU announced UF will pay for graduate assistants’ health and transportation fees and can expect to see fee relief through the bursar

<p>Graphic by Melanie Pena</p>

Graphic by Melanie Pena

UF graduate assistants will be reimbursed for health and transportation costs as part of fee relief for Summer and Fall 2021.

The decision to provide relief to the assistants for the two semesters was made on Aug. 4 in a bargaining session between UF’s Graduate Assistants United and the university. GAU bargains the entire contract every third year and then in between those years they negotiate specific articles, mainly with stipends.

However, UF did not agree to cover the health and transportation fees for graduate assistants beyond Summer and Fall 2021, so this financial fight is far from over.

“It’s a constant struggle to just keep things where they are at and then hopefully pull the rope a little bit to our side,” GAU Communications Chair Bryn Taylor said. “So I would not be surprised if we had to renegotiate this again.”

Taylor said the fee relief is a huge accomplishment toward graduate assistants’ rights.

“It’s a slow process but when you get wins like this it’s very rewarding and very satisfying,” she said.

UF graduate assistant Ana Pires said international students go through an extensive process to get their health insurance and bank accounts set up before paying for any of the fees.

“International students spend a lot just to come here and knowing that I would be treated the same as any US citizen Ph.D candidate is quite nice,” Pires, a 29-year-old political science Ph.D candidate, said.

With UF agreeing to pay for graduate assistant’s health and transportation fees, Pires hopes to continue receiving these benefits throughout her four-year program.

“It takes a chunk out of my worries because graduate assistant-ship stipend is not, you know, it won’t make you rich,” Pires said.

Since Fall 2019 graduate assistants have been required to pay for their health and transportation fees, which cover on-campus programs like the Student Health Care Center, the Counseling and Wellness Center, unlimited Regional Transit System bus rides and access to parking, Taylor said.

After paying the fees, she said graduate assistants were reimbursed through several $15 to $20 additions to their paychecks throughout the semester.

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But that is not what GAU and UF had agreed upon back in 2019, Taylor said.

“We’ve been trying to get it so that they will actually pay the fees on our behalf like we agreed upon originally, and they finally agreed to do it a couple of weeks ago,” she said.

Instead of receiving sporadic paycheck reimbursements — the prior arrangement — graduate assistants can expect to get fee relief through the bursar, according to a GAU Facebook and Twitter post Aug. 10.

Rachel Hartnett, GAU co-president, said the 2021-2023 GAU Collective Bargaining Agreement requires UF to pay for their health and transportation, which UF has only done once since negotiations began in 2017.

“It’s a huge accomplishment that should never have had to have been fought for,” Hartnett said.

Harneett said negotiations took so long because UF argued the mechanism used to pay the fees on graduate assistants’ behalf was illegal. However, UF has not said how it’s illegal.

Avoiding all illegalities, she said GAU has repeatedly asked for documented proof of the method of paying fees and is willing to negotiate a new contract if UF can demonstrate why the procedure does not work.

Contact Camila Pereira at Follow her on Twitter @CamilaSaPereira.

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Camila Pereira

Camila is a third-year journalism student and the administration reporter on the university desk. When she is not reporting for The Alligator, Camila is always listening to music and probably drinking honey milk tea.

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