When I came to USF I was extraordinarily happy to learn that GAs (Graduate Assistants) had a labor union. The USF chapter of UFF Graduate Assistants United represents the ~2,000 Graduate Assistants who work at USF in bargaining for workers’ rights and conditions. This means that we have rights and protections at USF that I didn’t have at the university where I received my Master’s degree.
Rights like health insurance.
I was extremely happy that I could take advantage of the 100% health insurance premium subsidy (i.e. free health insurance policy) that USF-GAU previously bargained for. At that point it had been approximately 7 years since I had health insurance, because after my ex- got out of the Marine Corps he was an entrepreneur, I was a student, and we were living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Needless to say, it was a relief to have health insurance again, and I signed up to join the union the first semester I came to USF.
I’ve been active with GAU in some way ever since, and last year I was elected President of USF-GAU. It has been an honor to serve the USF GAs, and it has been inspiring to see the union grow and become more organized over the past couple of years.
When I first became active with GAU there were a couple of dedicated members struggling to hold the whole thing together. Very few people would come out to vote for elected positions or even to ratify the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) for gains in workers’ rights . Few people seemed to care…
Yesterday I saw that trend turned upside-down. I saw a full executive board (plus some) come together to facilitate the ratification of our most recently bargained CBA. We had more GAs from the bargaining unit, both union members and not, vote yesterday than have voted in the past few years combined!
I am completely awed and inspired by this turnout. Yesterday, many GAs from USF took a stand for their working conditions and rights. They made their voices heard!
And that’s why unions are important. They give the little guys a voice. They give the little guys more equal footing with the big guys. GAU is an organization that says, “Hey! We work really hard to make USF great. We teach ~50% of the classes and complete a large percentage of the research that comes out of USF. We deserve to have health insurance benefits. We deserve to have a minimum level of pay. We deserve (at least) a cost-of-living raise every now and again. We deserve to have the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) apply to us.”
And that’s what GAU did. We took those issues to the bargaining table and reached an agreement with USF. GAs voted to ratify this agreement for workers’ rights that are important to them. We haven’t won the FMLA issue (yet), but GAs across the USF campus made it clear that the issues we bargained for are important to them.
So I’m feeling very grateful to be a part of this organization and to begin to see it flourish. I’m grateful for the new leaders who have given their time and energy to make GAU better. I’m grateful for the new members we’ve recruited, who realize the importance of supporting GAU. I’m feeling inspired that we can make a difference.
Power to the people and to living daringly!