Response to Admin’s website about bargaining

Summary:

  • Referring to average compensation obfuscates the distressingly low wages that many graduate employees receive. Furthermore, graduate employees are not allowed to work full time and most cannot work over the summer, making comparison to broader assessments of a living wage inappropriate.
  • Tuition waivers are not “real money.” Our compensation is freedom from paying tuition, rather than the money to pay for tuition. Therefore the dollar value of tuition waivers should not be considered part of our compensation.
  • The Administration has proposed a cap on their portion of health insurance premium payments. Even with the increases they have proposed to the percentage they would pay and the cap, they would reach this cap in a year or two if the current trend in premium increases continued. Thus our healthcare costs would continue to rise, actually in excess of what we would pay under the status quo. They mention nothing of our proposals for summer health insurance coverage or keeping ACA standards of care.
  • Their discussion of fee waivers fails to mention that we pay in excess of $500/semester in fees and health insurance, far more than at many competing universities. This reduces our take-home yearly pay by over $1000. And while currently 72% of fees are all or partially waived, most of these are determined by the Graduate Handbook which they could change at any time. 

Long response by GEO member Gabe Malo:

The University is circulating this page to faculty. It justifies the positions that the University is taking in contract negotiations with the GEO (which represents the University’s teaching assistants and graduate assistants). The information given on that page, however, is incredibly misleading. I’d like to presently (and with much credit to Grace Hébert, who called out this site and some of its flaws in her Facebook post) address some of these problems here:

1) The average compensation that they list is not what many individuals are receiving. For instance, my appointment gives me the absolute minimum. That’s $16,360.83 a year before taxes for twenty hours a week. This is several thousand dollars less than the living wage cited by the University in other materials.

2.) They state that we earn the equivalent of $20.97 an hour, and remind us that a living wage is $10.42 an hour. This comparison is neither fair nor apt. The living wage presumes a 40 hour work week. The average appointment is for 50% of that, or 20 hours. The maximum appointment that a graduate student is allowed is 67% (or around 27 hours) for domestic students, and 50% for international students. Moreover, the living wage presumes that you are employed for the entire year. Most teaching appointments only last for nine months. Many of us are not paid at all during the months of June, July, and August.

Making up these disparities is difficult-to-impossible. Graduate students are expected to conduct research, attend classes, and/or write in addition to the duties related to their appointment, most of which are unrelated to their academic progress. Carrying a second job in addition to both an active appointment and a vital academic career is next-to-impossible. Summer labor is also difficult to find; while some of us are able to scrape together minimal summer funding—or are lucky enough to land appointments that extend over the summer—the vast majority of us must look for work or save during the rest of the year. Finding such work is difficult—there is high demand in Chambana for relatively few seasonal jobs.

The situation for international students is even more dire. Most international students cannot legally work for anyone other than the university while they are in the US, meaning that University funding is the only source of income available to them while they are earning their degrees. Even if they want to look for off-campus work, their visas won’t allow it. They are entirely dependent upon the University for funding.

3.) They include tuition waivers as part of our compensation package. Tuition waivers cannot be spent. I cannot use my tuition waiver for rent. I cannot use my tuition waiver to buy groceries. It is a benefit, but it is not a benefit that meaningfully affects my day-to-day needs. It should be considered separately from the total cost of living.

4.) They imply that their offer on healthcare is an increase relative to their current coverage. It is not. The University wants to change from covering 80% of our premium to covering 83% of our premium or $550, whichever is less. Essentially, they want to cap the amount of our insurance that they pay. This is not a generous offer; this is a desire to control their costs. They also fail to mention that the GEO has asked for language guaranteeing the same coverages found in the ACA guidelines. Much of this coverage was not guaranteed prior to the ACA (for instance, we used to have a pre-existing conditions exclusion). We do not want to lose this coverage if the ACA is repealed.

5.) They completely sidestep the issue of summer health insurance. The University currently does not pay for either access to McKinley or health insurance over the summer. This is approximately $175 for McKinley, and approximately $370 for insurance coverage (amount as of Summer 2016). This amount must be paid in May, immediately prior to three months of no wages.

6.) They point out that they cover “72% of all fees.” This (on top of the uncovered amount for insurance, which ends up being a little over $100) means that I personally started this semester owing about $500. That’s more than 1/3 of my monthly take-home pay. Fees alone reduce my effective compensation to around $15,300 a year.

All of this isn’t just inaccurate; it’s insulting. It’s being disseminated to the faculty and to the department heads that control our academic fate. It’s attempting to make us look like petulant children who are challenging an already generous agreement. We aren’t. We are labor. We teach your students, we run your libraries, we help publish your journals. We facilitate research. We are as much the university as the administrator with whom our union is negotiating. And all we want is to be able to live, not comfortably, but viably.

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