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University of Florida graduate students seek to end fees, rally outside Library West

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Audio reports by Eneisy Rodriguez and Danny Gibble

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Standing in the Plaza of the Americas, speaking against the backdrop of chanting and music from the Hare Krishna serving their daily lunch, University of Florida graduate student David Jonathan Chase delivered his case for changing graduate assistants’ family medical leave.

Chase’s testimonial was part of a rally held by the UF graduate assistants’ labor union noon Tuesday to demand changes to the assistants’ contract.

Jose Soto, a president of the Graduate Assistants United labor union, said the group sought support on five issues.

He wants to end fees paid by the assistants, increase the time given for family and medical leave, increase health care coverage, increase access to on-campus child care services and increase the yearly assistant minimum wage from $10,000 to $11,000.

He said UF graduate assistants teach half of UF’s courses and conduct much of the university’s research.

His complaints against the assistants’ contract include five days given for family leave and no coverage for vision and dental health.

Rallies similar to Tuesday’s helped the union argue for increased health care coverage in 2006, Soto said.

“We provide a great service to the university, and we feel that we should not be paying to work here,” Soto said. “We deserve better. We serve the Gator nation well, we do it with pride, and we deserve more than that.”

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes and the UF professor and Graduate School Associate Dean Ken Gerhardt did not return phone calls.

Chase, a rally speaker who’s pursuing a master’s degree in mass communication, said he paid about $1,500 total as a teaching assistant in the telecommunication department.

“(It’s) essentially a fee for me to work for the university, and that’s outrageous,” Chase said.

About Wade Millward

Wade is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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