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Thursday, April 18, 2024

After months of bargaining, UF Graduate Assistants United saw the fruits of its labor after the university Board of Trustees approved Article 10 of GAU’s collective bargaining agreement.

Article 10 states graduate assistants on nine-month appointments will be paid $19,200, while those on 12-month appointments will receive a minimum of $25,600. 

With Article 10’s approval Dec. 7, graduate assistants received long-awaited changes to their salaries. Any graduate assistant in good behavioral standing will also receive a raise. Those with 9-month appointments will get a $400 raise, and year-long appointments will receive a $533.33 raise. 

Cassie Urbenz is a 23-year-old UF graduate assistant and GAU co-communications chair. Initially earning $17,000 under their contract, Urbenz had to work two additional jobs to scrape by. 

“It was definitely a big victory,” Urbenz said. “It was the largest raise we’ve gotten.” 

Urbenz believes the new stipend makes a huge difference. Under the new deal, Urbenz paid off a student loan and bought Christmas presents for their family, something they didn’t think would be possible with their previous salary. 

“I’m a lot more comfortable getting groceries,” they said. “I don’t feel as much pressure on my second and third job. I might even be able to drop it down to two.” 

The deal was a long time coming. The first bargaining process started in January 2023, almost a year before it was eventually passed. UF and GAU ratified the revised agreement in September. 

The changes were meant to go into effect Oct. 1, but graduate assistants couldn’t receive any additional money until the Board of Trustees voted. Now that it was approved, they will receive back pay to make up for the time it took to get the changes ratified. 

Sikander Khare, a 27-year-old UF graduate assistant and GAU bargaining chair, was frustrated with his working conditions. He became involved with GAU and now meets with the university bargaining team to have sessions like the ones from early 2023. 

“Our long-term goal as a union is to achieve a living wage for all graduate assistants,” he said. 

The goal is to reach an agreement that guarantees graduate assistants a living wage of $34,000. Although the new changes have not reached that goal, Khare said GAU will continue to prioritize better wages.

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“We were all underpaid and overworked,” he said.“It’s ultimately our labor that makes the university run, especially in terms of teaching and research output.” 

Many graduate assistants often work more than 20 hours a week, which is the maximum on their contracts, with no extra pay, Khare said. The increased stipends aim to give graduate students the money they need for groceries, healthcare and housing while ensuring better work conditions and fair workloads.

While the stipend is already helping graduate assistants, Khare still hopes to increase the stipends in as many ways as possible, he said. Full book negotiations, or a new round of negotiations about changes to the entire collective bargaining agreement, begin this year. 

“Our four main goals are stipends, health insurance, workload and graduate housing,” he said. 

Bargaining sessions will occur throughout the semester to address ways to improve those four main areas and any other issues that graduate assistants would want to be addressed in the new contract. 

As the bargaining begins, GAU also wishes to reach more students and graduate assistants. After a Florida law went into effect in July, the union must reach 60% membership, meaning that 60% of UF graduate assistants need to be members, for GAU to maintain its union status. 

“Before we were in survival mode,” said Urbenz. “We’re just really excited to continue our momentum.” 

Contact Delia Sauer at Follow her on Twitter @_delia_rose_.

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Delia Rose Sauer

Delia Rose Sauer is a second-year journalism major and the graduate & professional school reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she loves drawing, crocheting and exploring music genres.

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