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UF Graduate Assistants Rally Against Healthcare Changes

Members and supporters of the Graduate Assistant Union gathered on the front lawn of Tigert Hall at the University of Florida to rally for the protection of GatorGradCare.

Graduate assistants at UF are covered by GatorGradCare in a plan with no premiums and low deductibles.  The new plan proposed by the university would raise the insurance deductibles for the assistants.

Charles Shields, GAU’s communications chair, said this would be harmful to those graduate assistants living below the poverty line.  More than 1,000 earn less than $15,000 per year.

“It would be particularly harmful to those members that are the lowest-paid,” Shields said.

A split curtain labeled “GAU Cares” was held up atop the steps of Tigert Hall, meant to resemble the entrance to a field hospital tent.  GAU’s co-presidents, Taylor Polvadore and Alec Dinnin, were dressed in hospital scrubs.

According to Sebastian Sclofsky, GAU’s organizing chair, the field hospital was meant to symbolize the measures graduate assistants would be reduced to if UF’s proposed $300 healthcare deductible is approved.

“We are making UF a better school,” Sclofsky said of the concerned assistants.  He and others at the rally voiced frustration over the decision of UF’s administration to spend money to renovate the campus’ Plaza of the Americas while proposing limited healthcare for graduate assistants.

“I want to ask President Fuchs if he thinks shrubs are more important than GAs,” Sclofsky said.

William Connellan, director of academic support services, works as UF’s chief negotiator with GAU.  He called the GatorGradCare proposal the most difficult issue to solve in their negotiations.

“It’s very complex,” Connellan said.  He said he’s worked with the GAU for around a year on the subject.  “If you look at the proposal we have at the table and the number of variables involved, it’s substantial, and it’s difficult to understand all of it.”

Connellan said the university was obligated to end negotiations by June 30, but that they would ideally end earlier so new graduate students signing up for healthcare can know what the new terms will be.

Taylor Polvadore said GAU had made a counteroffer to the university amid multiple meetings with GatorCare representatives, to which no response has been given.  By the next bargaining session on Monday, she said, GAU hopes to receive UF’s counteroffer.

“We’d like to maintain the status quo,” Polvadore said.

Alec Dinnin summarized the organization’s consensus on the proposal while speaking to the assembly on the steps of Tigert.

“The administration ought to know that this is wrong,” Dinnin said.  “They ought to know that we’re economically vulnerable.  We will not allow anyone to turn UF into an institution where GAs can’t afford healthcare.”

Joseph Pellegrino is a reporter at WUFT News. He can be reached at jpellegrino@ufl.edu