Resolution in Solidarity with the Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties on Strike

Resolution in Solidarity with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties on Strike

[Passed at the Fall Members’ Meeting, 20th October, 2016]

WHEREAS, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF-AFT), which represents faculty and coaches at Pennsylvania’s fourteen state-owned universities, has been on strike since Wednesday, October 19 after working without a contract for more than 450 days; and

WHEREAS, the state system has not bargained seriously with the faculty, neglected for four months to meet with the faculty bargaining committee, and has turned down binding arbitration in favor of a non-binding “fact-finding” which would delay negotiations at the expense of faculty and students; and

WHEREAS, APSCUF is fighting for to defend the quality of Pennsylvania’s public higher education system and is deeply committed to the needs of their students; and

WHEREAS, the state’s contract proposals would undermine academic job security at the expense of both faculty and students; and

WHEREAS, the state is proposing salary cuts that would amount to a 20% pay cut for the lowest paid faculty even while administrators took substantial salary increases; and

WHEREAS, the state proposal would  cut healthcare benefits while also increasing out of pocket costs for healthcare; and

WHEREAS, this strike takes place in the context of the casualization of the academic workforce which undermines quality of life for academic workers and the quality of education provided to our students, and which turns the university campus into a factory rather than an institution of education; and

WHEREAS, quality public higher education must remain a cornerstone of our society if we are to ensure access and equity in education; be it

RESOLVED, that Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago (AFT/AAUP) stands in solidarity with striking faculty members across the Pennsylvania State College and University system as they fight for a fair contract.

Resolution in Solidarity with Harvard’s Striking Dining Hall Workers

Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago stands in solidarity with Harvard’s dining hall workers who have been on strike since October 5, and who have faced abuse and intimidation from the University administration. At Harvard, the richest institution of higher education in the world, with a $35 billion endowment and a $62 billion dollar operating surplus, it is unconscionable that half of the dining hall workers earn less than $35,000 per year.

As university workers who ourselves are underpaid, we recognize the difficulty imposed on workers, particularly those with families, by going for weeks without pay. We also know that this strike is absolutely necessary to win a decent standard of living, and to defend the dignity of workers that university administrators treat with scorn and disrespect.

Passed at the Fall Members’ Meeting, 20th October, 2016; Collected: $111.12

Resolution against the Dakota Access Pipeline

Resolution against the Dakota Access Pipeline and in Favor of a Just Transition to a Clean Energy Future
[Passed at the Fall Members’ Meeting, 20th October, 2016]

WHEREAS, the $3.78 Billion, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline would carry over half a million barrels of dirty crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois to connect to other pipelines bringing oil to the East Coast and the Gulf; and

WHEREAS, the pipeline is slated to pass through the tribal lands of Standing Rock Sioux near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and underneath the Missouri River, the main source of water for the tribe, explicitly against the tribe’s stated wishes; and

WHEREAS, the pipeline desecrates the ancestral burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux; and

WHEREAS, energy development projects constitute a key mechanism by which the sovereignty of Native American tribes is further undermined following centuries of active colonization; and

WHEREAS, millions of workers, including many union members, and their families and communities live in the path of the proposed pipeline; and

WHEREAS, the transport of heavy crude is particularly volatile, leading to 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked, or released into the air, land, and waterways between 2006 and 2014 in North Dakota alone, causing death, contamination of soil and water, and disease of many kinds; and

WHEREAS, scientists have warned that in order to avoid wide-scale, catastrophic climate disruption, the vast majority of known remaining fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched and “in the ground;” and

WHEREAS, Native American water protectors and their supporters have been brutally attacked by private security forces with attack dogs and pepper spray; and

WHEREAS, Native Americans and other activists defending their land and water have the same right to defend their land and engage in protest as workers who are protesting the actions of an unfair employer; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Congress has repealed the ban on exporting oil, meaning that the oil transported by the pipeline is likely to be sold overseas and not contribute to US energy independence; and

WHEREAS, we know catastrophic climate change presents a far greater threat to the livelihoods of workers; and

WHEREAS, many large corporations, and especially energy corporations, have been putting profits ahead of the common good of workers, the public, and the environment, and these corporations have been granted the unjust constitutional rights and powers of personhood, with the doctrine of money as speech through activist Supreme Court decisions thereby diminishing democracy and the voice and power of the people; and

WHEREAS, numerous national and international unions have already passed resolutions against construction of the pipeline, including National Nurses United, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Communications Workers of America, the Service Employees International Union, the United Electrical Workers, and others; and

WHEREAS, the actual number of permanent full-time jobs projected to be created by the Dakota Access Pipeline numbers less than twenty; and

WHEREAS, more long term, good paying jobs would be created by investing in sustainable energy infrastructure projects using already existing technologies while at the same time reducing the pollution that creates greenhouse gases; and

WHEREAS, we support the rights of our union brothers and sisters building the pipeline to work in safe environments at jobs that are consistent with respect for the environment and the rights and safety of communities at the front lines of the People’s Climate struggle; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that we of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago (AFT/AAUP) join in solidarity with Native American water protectors, their allies, and our fellow graduate employee union locals, including:

·      GEU-UAW Local 6950 at the University of Connecticut

·      GSOC-UAW Local 2110 at New York University

·      GEO-UAW Local 2322 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst

·      University of California Student-Workers Union-UAW Local 2865

·      Academic Student-Employees-UAW Local 4123 at the California State University

·      I.F.T./A.F.T. Local 6300 AFL-CIO at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

We call upon the United States Federal Government to make permanent the moratorium on construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline by revoking permits for construction issued by the Army Corps of Engineers; and be it further

RESOLVED, that GSU-UChicago calls on the labor movement to support a just transition to a renewable energy economy and investment in the construction of a nationwide sustainable energy infrastructure that will address the growing threat of climate change and its consequent droughts, floods, fires, crop failures, species extinctions, and other dire consequences of global climate change, and furthermore urges the AFL-CIO and LiUNA to reverse their condemnable and falsely defended statements in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the GSU-UChicago urges the members of GSU, other graduate employee union locals, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, and the rest of the labor movement to join us and other graduate employee union locals in becoming actively involved in promoting a just transition to a sustainable alternative energy economy that protects ecological integrity and respects the rights of all working people to good paying and safe jobs, human rights, and justice for all.

Guide to Healthcare

GSU’s Healthcare committee had one its more active years in recent times. Following the dramatic hike in out of pocket payments (the amount one pays before the insurance kicks in) on the university insurance plan, announced just before the start of the previous academic year, many of us came together to organise against it, and collaboratively better understand how healthcare works (or doesn’t) for us here. We generated some documents, and also organised to build pressure on the university, preventing any further deterioration of our insurance this year. Some of our members work with the Student Health Advisory Board, and through that were involved in a variety of activities, including generating a survey to gain a sense of student views on healthcare, and a townhall where students could ask questions to the Dean and directors of healthcare services on campus.

Through these activities we developed a better sense of the three key areas of concern that we had made note of in the 2015 Survival Guide: 1) costs were the biggest concern, along with concerns about costs not being communicated properly, 2) lack of information, especially regarding the insurance and what is covered, 3) some people said that they avoid the student health and counseling services because they expect to face, or have faced, racial or gendered prejudices, or have had to deal with practitioners who are not sensitive to cultural differences. Accordingly, we have tried to produce some documents as part of the expanded 2016 Survival Guide, in an effort to pool experiences amongst ourselves, should it in any way help fellow grad students find their feet in a difficult scenario. Please do write to us if you feel your experiences or knowledge can help us improve this document, or if you have unanswered questions. We will continue working to build a movement for better healthcare at UofC: if you would like to be involved with that campaign, or wish to discuss anything else pertaining to health here at UofC, please get in touch with our healthcare committee (gsu@riseup.net)

The university health insurance plan (U-­SHIP), managed by United Healthcare Student Resources, is not as bad as it could be. It covers an okay range of services, at least relative to the high cost of health insurance generally. It is comparable with the best platinum plans available on the Illinois marketplace, though that might not be saying much since the large and relatively young student body who get this plan should allow the university to bargain low prices. There remain significant issues with the plan, and the university could certainly purchase a better plan by paying more. For instance, other universities in the vicinity with recognised unions have much better plans. You could check out the University of Illinois, Chicago plan if you wish. This document you are reading is meant to be a brief introductory note to help make the system work for you. It is divided into the following sections:

I) to help navigate the system
II) important locations
III) costs
IV) dental/vision care

I) To help navigate the system

  • the insurance plan requires you to get your primary care from Student Health Services (SHS) (sometimes referred to as the Student Care Center). If you don’t go there first to get a referral for health services, you may be penalized by the insurance plan. A part of your student life fee goes towards paying for the SHS, and services you subsequently avail there are usually (but not always) without additional charges. However, it is good practice to always clarify these matters with reference to your particular condition when visiting. Also, since you depend on an SHS referral to avail of the benefits of the insurance, it means that if you have delayed paying your student life fee you are in effect left without an insurance for the time being. SHS is no longer a walk-in clinic, you will need to schedule an appointment to be seen there.
  • if it is an urgent matter during out of office hours, it is strongly recommended that you contact the university’s nurse advice line (773-­702-­1915) for a referral. If you encounter any disputes with the insurance company, such official referrals will be critical for you to defend yourself from paying the full bill. However, the university’s nurse advice line is outsourced and run neither by the university nor by the insurance company. Possibly because of this reason, there have been cases of the nurse advice line not entering the referral correctly, making it difficult for the student to retrieve the information when needing it to later dispute that charge. Hence, record the time, duration, and the name of the nurse you talked to, and save the phone bill that shows your call record. (The phone bill may not be sufficient proof for the company though.) If not, make it a point to mention the fact that you have been referred at every juncture possible.
  • you are not required to make a payment at the time that you visit a doctor. It is your legal right to refuse if asked. Your bills are generated after the visit, and it is only after they go through the claims process that you are expected to pay anything. Also, if you are being treated at the UCMC, you may qualify for “charity care” because almost all graduate students are low wage earners.The hospital uses this to tout its support for poor people, though, as a “Non Profit,” it pays no income or property taxes and in exchange is legally required to provide a certain amount of subsidized care.
  • the process for applying for charity care is relatively simple. Go to the following webpage, where you will find a .pdf of the financial assistance form. Fill out the form. Under the employer, list the University of Chicago. You will need a copy of your most recent federal tax documents, as well as a copy of your driver’s license or other official ID. Once you complete the form, it can either be mailed (with accompanying documentation) to the address listed on the website, or you can take it in person to Outpatient Services, 1A on the first floor of the DCAM building (to the left right when you enter the building). You should receive a reply within a week notifying you of your discount. You can find more details about disputing bills in general in the Survival Guide document titled “Disputing your medical bill.
  • healthcare providers will usually not be able to tell you the cost in advance. However, it may be good to ask, at least for estimates. Also enquire if it is covered by your insurance. Apart from asking the healthcare provider, you can often call the insurance company, if it isn’t an emergency situation, to see if they can clarify how a treatment or service might be billed.
  • any time that you get a bill that is unexpectedly high, doesn’t make sense, or contradicts what you were told originally, it might be worth it to call the doctor, SHS, the student insurance coordinator, and/or the insurance company. Folks have been billed erroneously for a variety of things, and a lot of calling and asking questions and clarifying often allows one to save hundreds of dollars. It’s unfortunate that we have to do this work, but it can often be worthwhile not to take every bill as the final word on what you might owe out of pocket. At the same time, do not just sit on a bill past the deadline for making payments, they will send a collector to your house without hesitation, and you don’t want that happening.
  • there are a number of doctors and nurse practitioners who work at SHS, some might be a good fit for you, some might not. If you meet with someone you feel comfortable with, you can request appointments with that person when you schedule a visit. This way, you can feel like you’ve got a primary care physician who knows you and your medical history.
  • If you need hospital care, the University of Chicago Medical Centre (UCMC) will often turn out more expensive than other hospitals. If you are being referred to the hospital if may be good to ask the doctor or nurse making the referral what your other in-­network options are -­ there is usually a tendency to automatically refer people to the UCMC. [The insurance covers more costs if you visit a healthcare provider with whom they have an agreement, rathern that an ‘out of network’ provider] It should be noted, the UCMC is supposed to be a good hospital, and especially if it is a complicated operation there may be grounds for considering the more expensive treatment. Again, low-­income grad students are usually eligible for some amount of subsidized care.
  • the SHS provides a range of preventive care (e.g., physicals, regular gyn screenings, HIV and pregnancy testing) at no cost. Give them a call (773 702-4156), take advantage!
  • you can get contraceptives for free by getting a prescription from SHS, they are covered by the insurance. SHS can (at least in theory) provide long-­term prescriptions and renew them on request.
  • thanks to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), you can get birth control prescriptions and IUD insertions at in-­network clinics (such as the OB/GYN clinic at the UCMC) for low/no-­cost WITHOUT A REFERRAL. Contact the United Health Insurance Coordinators on campus to learn about other in-network providers.
  • many students will qualify for IL All Kids/ Medicaid, which covers normal birth and prenatal care 100%. U-­SHIP is notorious for failing to cover basic prenatal care without a lot of wrangling, so it makes sense to apply for Medicaid even if you have U-­SHIP, just to cover your bases. Keep in mind that not all providers accept Medicaid, so you will need to check in advance.
  • there are 2 Student Health Insurance Coordinators, who are available to meet you in person, or discuss over email or phone, anything pertaining to medical insurance. Do note, they are employees of United Health, the company that provides the insurance.Janice Thomas and James Abernathy.Telephone: (773) 834-4543 (press Option #2); Email: uchicagoadvocates@uhcsr.com.
  • Julie Edwards is the Director of Health, Promotion and Wellness, and is also there to address questions about our insurance. She is an university employee. She can be contacted at (773) 702-8247 or julieedwards@uchicago.edu.

II) Important locations

  • the university’s Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS), in the Office of Campus and Student Life, oversees provision of health care for students and negotiates with United Healthcare about the terms of student health insurance. It is divided into the Student Health Services, Student Counselling Services, and Health Promotion and Wellness. The SHCS seeks input from the Student Health Advisory Board (SHAB), but SHAB, like any student advisory body (including Graduate Council), has no formal decision-­making power when it comes to matters of university administration.
  • the SHS (Student Health Centre) address is 860 E. 59th Street, R100, and phone number for appointments is (773) 702-4156. Go down S.Ellis to E. 59th, then turn right on 59th and keep walking till the Goldblatt Pavilion Entrance. After you enter you can show your card at the desk and ask for directions -­ you have to go left once inside the building to reach SHS.
  • the Student Counselling Centre has moved to a new address. It’s now at 5555 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637 . The entrance is on 56th street. Find more about counselling and mental health in the “Guide to Mental Health” section of the guide.
  • if you have a regular prescription you need filled, the pharmacy in DCAM (Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine, 5758 S. Maryland Avenue, (773) 834-­7002) is often cheaper than the Walgreen’s or CVS in Hyde Park.
  • Health Promotion and Wellness is at 950 E. 61st Street, 3rd Floor, Chicago, IL 60637 . They organise things such as play time with therapy dogs, yoga sessions, stressbusters such as back-­rubs, etc.
  • United Healthcare’s Insurance Coordinators are located at Woodlawn Social Services Center; 950 E. 61st St., Rooms 368 & 370.

III) Costs

The cost for the 2016-­17 UofC U-­SHIP for students is $3,615, paid in three quarterly installments of $1,205. Depending on your department and offer package, the university may be directly making these payments, or leave you to do so. If you have to purchase coverage (i.e., the University is not providing it as part of your funding package or you are not covered under a spouse’s plan or your parents’ plan), you should explore comparable alternatives on healthcare.gov before deciding to pay for USHIP out of pocket – see our Obamacare guide. Foreign nationals on student visas are also eligible to purchase insurance on healthcare.gov. And depending on income level, whether or not you are an US national, you will likely be eligible for federal subsidies to help make the premiums more affordable. With the federal subsidies, a graduate student earning an average salary might potentially save $1000-­1500 for comparable coverage through the IL Marketplace.

If you are a returning student, since your previous year’s U-­SHIP lapsed at the end of August, you are eligible within a one month window, till 30 September, to find a plan on the exchange/marketplace through the special enrollment period, but the university’s internal deadline effectively means that you must find coverage on the exchange by 15 September. New students may also be eligible to buy a plan during the special enrollment period. Do note, the national enrollment period for 2016 is open from November 1 to December 15, but since we need to confirm our insurance choice with the university by 30 September you must apply using the special enrollment period and again during open enrollment. If you miss the University’s deadline to waive USHIP, any changes after that have to meet United Healthcare’s criterion for mid-­year changes, which are not likely to be nice.

Dependent coverage has generally been very expensive through U-­SHIP. If you have children, you can look into IL All Kids, a State-­subsidized program for children’s health care. For the lowest income bracket, which includes many graduate students, there is no deductible and very few co-­pays. However, not all providers at the University of Chicago Hospital take All Kids/ Medicaid, so you may need to seek a provider elsewhere. The Friend Family Health Center at 55th and Cottage Grove is associated with the University and accepts All Kids, for example. Thanks to Obamacare, spouses do not have to pay the exorbitantly high premiums for USHIP as they had to, but preferable insurance options may still be available on healthcare.gov. It is generally not advisable to purchase USHIP for children: cheaper coverage is available on healthcare.gov or via Illinois Medicaid and CHIP programs. You may also want to look at our Obamacare Guide and Guide to Childcare.

You can find the details of the USHIP insurance package here.

IV) Dental/Vision

You can opt to add Dental and Vision coverage to your health care plan. It is usually possible to take these plans for the whole year, or for a 6 month period spanning roughly the Winter and Spring quarters. Unless you think you are going to need significant dental work in the coming year, the dental insurance is probably not going to be cost-­effective for you. You can find the three packages offered through the university listed here, and if you consider purchasing any of them be sure to check with your prospective dentist which plan they take. For regular cleanings and x-­rays, you are better off simply paying out of pocket. There is a discount card included with your U-­SHIP that may get you a break on dental services from various places in the city. Many dentists will also reduce their charges if you explain that you don’t have insurance. Also, tread carefully if considering Groupon deals, they may not be advisable -­ while the cleaning itself can be a good deal (depending on the provider and so on), it has been reported that the dentist invariably suggests complicated and expensive follow-­up. The University of Illinois at Chicago student dental clinic is a good, cheap way to take care of routine dental care needs, though you may need to pay on the spot.

The university’s vision plans, in contrast with its dental plans, can be a good deal. You can find the details of the two plans offered this year here. For a 6-­month premium, you can get an eye exam with only a $10 copay and significant benefits towards glasses or contact lenses. If you need vision correction, you will probably come out ahead with the vision insurance. However, there are some exemptions that may surprise you, and so this may vary depending on your prescription. There may also be other factors to consider: international students, or those visiting other countries at any point in the year, often find it cheaper to get their eyes checked and purchase new glasses outside the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NLRB (Finally) Rules: We are Workers!

Today, in a historic decision the National Labor Relations Board ruled that “student assistants working at private colleges and universities are statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act.” What does this mean? This decision recognizes that as graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities we are legally entitled to collective bargaining rights. Does this mean that we are automatically on the road to an union contract? No, unionizing is still our choice to make democratically and actively, and it’s one the administration will probably continue to discourage (despite claiming to be “neither for or against”). But this does mean that as of today we enjoy the same collective bargaining rights as other employees covered by U.S. labor law, and that’s huge!

GSU issues a big congratulations to our comrades at Columbia University and the New School for taking their fight for recognition to the NLRB!

While we celebrate wholeheartedly the NLRB decision we also note that it only affirms, and gives legal status to what GSU and its counterparts at private universities have known and acted on for years: academic work is work and #WeAreWorkers. The NLRB has made the right decision in recognizing graduate students at private universities as employees, giving them legal collective bargaining rights. This is a big step forward, not just for graduate students and academic labor, but for the labor movement as a whole.

What Does This Mean Moving Forward?

This favorable NLRB decision gives us as graduate student-employees at UoC legal backing to exercise our right to unionize. We are in our full legal right to mobilize graduate student workers on campus toward building a strong democratic union that can collectively bargain to improve and more fully control our working lives.

While GSU will continue to do the work it has been doing for the past 9 years we will now be able to begin to take the necessary steps to conduct a campus-wide campaign which will allow graduate-employees at the UoC to exercise their right to collectively bargain by casting their votes for or against unionization. The process of building a card campaign has three basic steps: getting our fellow workers to sign union cards, filing for a union election with the NLRB, and voting in the election.

The next few months will be crucial as we move forward and prepare to exercise our right to organize and collectively bargain. Now is the time to get involved and there are plenty of ways to do so! Email us, ask your Departmental Organizer how you can get involved, or consider becoming a Departmental Organizer yourself! And, please be sure to vote in the upcoming referendum on our affiliation – this vote will determine which national union, if any, GSU will work with in a potential card campaign!

If you would like to become a member, please do so here.

Petition: Abolish the Hours Cap for Graduate Employees

Sign this petition on our change.org platform!

The cap on working hours  at the University of Chicago has become untenable for the graduate student population. While the 19.5 hour cap for graduate employees at the University of Chicago has  been in place for some time now, in August 2015 the administration began including teaching hours in that calculation. With this new rule, many graduate employees have lost their jobs as lecturers, teaching assistants, and as vital part-time employees throughout the university. The hours cap has, in short, limited our access to professional development, and more importantly, to the work that many of us need in order to pay our bills.  This policy change was put into effect hastily with no advance notice, nor any explanation, in the middle of a year when employment decisions and work-study awards had already been made. The administration has yet to provide a logical explanation for it.

They claim that we are “students first” and hence should be focused primarily on our academic work. If the administration wants to continue to use this rhetoric that we are students and not employees and should thus focus on our academic progress, then they should pays us sufficiently so that we can do so. We would be more than happy to focus on completing our dissertations and research if we weren’t worried about how to pay the bills. No one is working extra jobs just for fun.

The administration’s arbitrary imposition of an hour cap disregards the following facts:

  • Limiting our ability to work adversely affects various groups of graduate students, including those that come from working-class backgrounds, non-white students, international students, student parents, and students in advanced residency.
  • Graduate employees are adults, capable of making our own decisions about their working lives, without paternalistic rules forced on them by the administration.
  • At many peer institutions the hours cap for graduate employees is significantly higher. Harvard, for instance, allows its graduate students employees to work up to 40 hours per week. At BrownUniversity and Cornell University there is no cap at all, and while they have recommendations, they treat graduate employees like adults and let them make their own decisions about employment.
  • For many student employees, teaching is a requirement of our academic programs, and hence should not be considered as extraneous employment. Additionally, the university is “double-dipping” by taking teaching pay out of the stipends of students on  the GAI on a prescribed schedule that does not work well for many individual students, and then insisting that those teaching hours be counted against the graduate student work cap. They do so using a formula that is opaque, and does not allow for any distinction among widely varying amounts of time required to lecture or TA in a specific capacity.
  • Many graduate students teach only during certain quarters each year, yet this policy prevents us from maintaining job continuity from quarter to quarter due to teaching demands.
  • Many jobs that we work are not ancillary to our “professional development,” but in fact contribute directly to it.
  • Rising costs for healthcare, in particular, but also for housing, and for the general cost of living in Chicago, make it increasingly necessary for many students to supplement an already inadequate income from the university, and this policy, poorly explained, and hastily implemented, makes it nearly impossible to do so.

With this petition, Graduate Students United demands that the university abolish the 19.5 hour cap on working hours for all graduate students.

 

Questions about Healthcare? An Exchange with Student Health and Counseling Services

There is so much about healthcare provisions on campus that just don’t seem to make sense! As our healthcare campaign has been growing, we have also been trying to collectively figure out stuff, beginning with updating the GSU Survival Guide over summer. On November 18th, 2015, two GSU members on the Student Health Advisory Board wrote to Dr. Alex Lickerman, then Assistant Vice President of Student Health and Counseling Services, and Ms. Marcy Hochberg, then the university’s insurance coordinator. They asked a number of questions that had come up in the course of GSU’s organizing and research. We share below Dr. Lickerman’s response, with his answers listed under each question asked.

  1. Should anyone wish to waive USHIP, the deadline for submitting proof of alternative insurance is 23rd October. However, since every grad is expected to have insurance from the first day of the quarter (“Active coverage from the day the student arrives on campus through either August 31, 2016 OR the end of their academic program (whichever comes first).”), it appears that this year, the insurance coverage must have begun on approximately September 28th. In effect, this would imply that a student must buy a plan that is valid starting September 1st, and therefore the actual deadline for students purchasing an insurance plan on the ACA exchange would be August 15th. Is this correct?

Many marketplace plans (but not all) begin on the first of the month. However, because it is still before the deadline and around the beginning of the start of classes, we accept plans beginning October 1st to waive U-SHIP coverage. Many other alternate private plans begin coverage on the date when payment is received. Therefore, there is greater flexibility in alternatives than solely what is available through the marketplace (and in point of fact, many international students do not review those plans, because they are not eligible for subsidies.) Although we want students to have coverage from the time they arrive, we do try to allow students time to review requirements and research alternatives. Thus, as long as they can show active coverage by the U-SHIP deadline, they can waive successfully through the online system. Obviously, depending on which plans they are reviewing, the providers may place some constraints on application times, as far as when coverage commences.

Since open enrollment begins every year on July 1st, and students have almost 4 full months to consider alternatives, and 2 months from when U-SHIP actually expires to apply for plans on the marketplace — although they can submit an application sooner, indicating that their coverage will terminate on Aug. 31 – we feel there is a generous amount of time provided to research marketplace plans.

  1. The university announced over email last December (12/23/2014) that 6th and 7th year PhD students “who are at candidacy” would have their health insurance premiums funded. What happens to students who are not ABD by their 6th year? Do they entirely forfeit eligibility for health insurance coverage in the 6th and 7th years? Or, do they forfeit it only until they achieve ABD status? That is, if a student is not at candidacy by the beginning of their 6th year, but defends in Winter of the 6th year (for example), would they have forfeited their entire 6th and 7th year insurance coverage? Might it be possible to clarify if there is any university policy about this, or if this decision is left to the discretion of certain individuals? And further, is there any policy guidance on what kinds of criterion can lead to one being excluded from this coverage? Does one’s department have any say in this matter?

This inquiry should be directed to UChicagoGRAD and the Deans of Students offices. Student Health & Counseling Services administers U-SHIP but does not determine how funding is provided for graduate students, including for student health insurance.

Continue reading

Let Graduate Employees Decide How to Manage Their Own Working Lives

Graduate Students United categorically denies the administration’s oft-repeated talking point that graduate employees are students first. We are from day one employees of this institution, as well as being students. All of our labor—research, writing, teaching, coordinating workshops, planning and attending conferences, etc.—produces value for the university. We receive compensation and benefits for the work that we do here: that is an employer-employee relationship. We think thou doth protest too much on this point, showing that the administration has ulterior motives in repeating this talking point ad nauseum. It is not difficult to discern what these motives are: under current labor law, graduate students at private universities are considered students and not employees, and we thus have no collective bargaining rights. It is clearly in the interests of the administration and the board of trustees that this status quo continue, and it is clear that they have done everything in their power to preserve the appearance that graduate employees are just students. We believe that the 19.5 hour cap is in place as another attempt to preserve this myth that we are students and not employees.

According to the University of Chicago Employee Handbook, certain employment benefits kick in for employees that work 20 hours or more per week. Is it just a coincidence that student employment is capped at 19.5 hours? We think not. If graduate employees were receiving employment benefits like PTO and paid vacation and sick time, it would be harder for the administration to maintain the myth that we are students and not employees. The administration belies their own position when they claim that “like faculty, PhD students must juggle multiple responsibilities related to their scholarship and teaching.”

We are glad that the administration is trying to be flexible about the 19.5 hour cap. But many problems remain. The policy is inherently unfair: many graduate employees have teaching requirements that are a part of their academic program, while others do not; some graduate employees have recourse to financial assistance from their families, while others do not; international students cannot seek employment outside of the university; student parents often need to work more to provide for their families, and so on. Leaving the decision of whether or not to allow students to exceed the 19.5 hour limit entirely in the hands of the Deans of Students is, in our view, a misguided and dangerous policy. It opens the door to unequal treatment of graduate employees, without any oversight, and without offering any form of recourse to grads who think that they have been treated unfairly. Without a clear policy to guide decisions, and without a system of oversight, decisions are too easily open to nepotism or punitive motives.

It is also misguided–and insulting–to assume that graduate employees need a policy like this to manage our time and our lives. By this point in our careers, it is perfectly within our power to balance our teaching, research, and other work on our own. Other universities explicitly recognize this fact, and treat their graduate employees like adults deserving of basic respect: at Harvard graduate employees can work 40 hours a week if they so choose; Brown and Cornell have recommendations, but they leave the decision up to the grads. Chicago should follow the lead of these ‘peer institutions’ and let us make our own decisions about our working lives.

Cut Administrative Salaries to Ensure Living Wages for Grad Employees

In their recent email announcing stipend increases and higher teaching wages, Provost Isaacs and Sian Beilock claim that it is part of the University’s mission to “ensure students can operate at the highest level.” Assuming that this is not mere rhetoric, but represents an actual and ongoing commitment of the administration, let’s consider what this would actually look like. First, a living wage, such that, for example, a single student can live comfortably in a one-bedroom apartment, or a student parent can live comfortably and provide for their children, without having to supplement their financial support from the University by finding other employment. The median rent for a one-bedroom in Hyde Park is roughly $1,000 a month, or $12,000 a year, minus other costs like electricity, internet, etc. The Federal government claims that affordable housing should not exceed 30% of annual income. Thirty percent of the new GAI level of support of $28,000 is $8,400, or $700 a month—well short of what it costs to live affordably in a one-bedroom, or even a studio apartment in Hyde Park. Base-level compensation, by these standards, should be at least $40,000 a year, and then tied to inflation. If the University wants to continue to use this rhetoric that we are students and not employees and should thus focus on our academic progress, then they should pay us sufficiently so that we can do so. We would be more than happy to focus on completing our dissertations if we weren’t constantly worried about how to pay the bills.
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Second, affordable healthcare. Health costs are, and have been for the last several years, increasing at a rate that far exceeds increases in compensation. In 2008, when GSU was campaigning to push the university to pay for our premiums in the first place, the premiums for the USHIP plan were $590 a quarter. Now they are $1144 a quarter, a 94% increase since 2008. As opposed to this, from when GSU’s organising forced the administration to double TA wages to $3000 in 2008, they have now been increased by 33%. The Student Life Fee, most of which (roughly 77%) pays for Student Health and Counseling Services on campus, has increased by around 45% since 2008 when teaching wages were last increased. It is currently $1,089 a year, $1,375 a year if a student needs access over the summer. This year the deductible for the USHIP health plan increased 150% from $200 to $500 for in-network coverage, and 100% from $500 to $1,000 for out-of-network coverage. Hence, healthcare costs for a student that uses their plan and wants access to Health and Counseling Services throughout the year are nearly $2,000 (if not more), entirely offsetting the increase in GAI funding and increases in teaching wages. And this doesn’t even take into account dental and eye coverage. Given the existing state of financial precariousness for graduate employees, the increase in health costs are such that they will present a deterrent from seeking healthcare—hardly a state of being conducive to operating at the highest level as academics.
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The situation is even more bleak for graduate employees post-GAI. Let’s say that one taught a stand-alone lecture course in all three quarters—a nearly impossible prospect, of course, but the best-case scenario in terms of compensation. At the new level of $6,000 per course, that would amount to an annual income of just $18,000. Affordable rent at this level would be a mere $450 a month. This means that advanced graduate students inevitably must seek other employment to make ends meet, increasingly taking away the time that is necessary to complete their degree. Again, if the administration is truly committed to ensuring that graduate employees “operate at the highest level,” then they should compensate us so as to make this possible. What would this look like? It would look like the Faculty Forward campaign of the Service Employee International Union’s call for compensation of 15K per course. In addition to the meagre pay, students in advanced residency are hit with AR tuition to the tune of nearly $2,400 a year. After year seven, they are required to pay for their own health care, meaning that if they wish to stay on the USHIP health plan, they must cough up roughly another $3,500 a year just to pay premiums. As it is, it is virtually structurally impossible for graduate employees in many doctoral programs to finish their degree in five or six years. The University, rather than addressing this structural problem, is trying to force advanced students out of their programs through financial attrition. This is wrong.
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“The University, rather than addressing this structural problem, is trying to force advanced students out of their programs through financial attrition. This is wrong.”
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The administration will say that this is pie-in-the-sky utopian thinking, disconnected from the pragmatic realities of running such an institution. We do not think it utopian to claim that graduate employees deserve to live as adults and have a decent standard of living, without having to take on crippling debt, or seek financial assistance from our families. This is simple economic justice. Here’s an idea: let’s cap all administrative salaries at $200,000 a year—which is roughly what U.S. congressmen and women make, and surely plenty of money for anyone to live very comfortably on. This money could then be used to increase compensation for graduate students and other employees. How much money would be saved? Well, the University of Chicago has around 20 key administrators (“administrators who make more than $150,000 and are designated by the IRS as ‘key employees’”), who take home on average about $900,000 a year. This is a total of roughly 18 million a year in administrative pay. If these salaries were capped at $200,000 a year, that would leave around 14 million dollars extra per year that could be used to increase pay for graduate students and other poorly paid employees. That would be a good starting point.
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We are pleased to hear that the administration has committed to an ongoing dialogue with graduate employees about these issues. It is good that they seek feedback from the Grad Council. This, however, should not be used as an excuse to avoid or ignore feedback from other sources, including Graduate Students United. Grad Council is not a democratically elected, nor a representative body. They have no claim to representing the interests of graduate employees. Graduate Students United, on the other hand, has such a claim: we have over 600 members across all divisions. We regularly seek feedback from our members, and the graduate student body as a whole, on issues of concern through our member’s meetings, townhalls, surveys, and email correspondence. If the administration is truly committed to an open dialogue that takes seriously the concerns of graduate employees, then they must allow Graduate Students United to have a voice in that dialogue.

Great, a Raise! Now How About Admitting We Work Here?

In early December, University of Chicago graduate employees received a pair of emails from our Provost, Eric D. Isaacs, announcing substantial wage increases for graduate employees in the Social Sciences and Humanities Divisions, as well as the Divinity School and the School of Social Service Administration. These two e-mails say it loud and clear: the University is listening to GSU, as it has been since our founding back in the spring of 2007. After all, the last pay hike for graduate TAs and lecturers on this campus — way back in 2008 — was one of GSU’s first achievements. Since then, every substantial improvement in our work and study conditions, from the freezing of AR tuition to the creation of childcare subsidies, has come in response to GSU campaigns.

 

We regret that administrators continue to avoid acknowledging their implicit dependence on GSU’s advocacy on behalf of graduate students. After all, this latest win — a 20% payraise for TAs and lecturers — comes in response to the fees campaign we launched last year, which highlighted the steep rise in fees and our growing inability to pay them on our stagnant wages. Our townhalls and rallies were packed, and our petition to abolish the Student Life Fee got over 500 signatures and substantial press coverage. We also took the fight to Student Government, packing into a meeting with Dean Rasmussen to insist that administrators respond to our demands. Most recently, we worked hard to get to the bottom of the newly enforced 19.5-hour cap on graduate student employment — a new rule that administrators have had a hard time justifying.

 

Provost Isaacs’s e-mail confirms, and as our own research suggests, that the real reason behind the cap on employment is the University’s stake in keeping us legally classified as students, not employees. Isaacs writes, “We view graduate student members of our community first and foremost as students.” In keeping with this assertion, Provost Isaacs frames the wage increase as an expression of concern for the well-being of students.

 

As graduate students and employees who make our living working at this university, we say enough is enough. While we are certainly students, we see no reason why that fact should continue to serve as a fig leaf for terrible wages. Of course we see why administrators would be so eager to insist that we are “first and foremost students”: it helps to slow down our efforts to win formal recognition as workers entitled to form a union and bargain collectively for future wage increases and other improvements in our conditions of work at this university. We see a direct connection between the 20% payraise we’ve won and the recent successful unionization campaign among UChicago’s non-tenure track faculty. In light of this recent victory, and other victories among academic workers at private and public universities across the country, U of C administrators have good reason to worry. At the University of Missouri this summer, we’ve already seen what kind of power students can gain over their working lives when they organize to demand recognition as employees of the universities they attend, and which they sustain with their labor from the moment of their arrival on campus.

 

Like these other academic workers, we are employees of the university where we pursue our graduate studies.All of our labor—research, writing, teaching, coordinating workshops, planning and attending conferences, etc.—produces value for the university. We receive compensation and benefits for the work that we do here. It is not difficult to discern why the administration avers that we’re not workers. It is clearly in the interests of the administration and the board of trustees that the status quo continue. But until the University recognizes us as employees with the same collective bargaining rights as any other worker, we won’t stop organizing.