On Wednesday, January 22 at 3:30 PM a delegation of OSU graduate teaching and research assistants will meet with Interim President Tim White in 600 Kerr Administration. They will present him with petitions containing over 750 signatures collected during Fall Term from their co-workers and OSU community members seeking paid health insurance benefits for graduate assistants.
The petition presenters will be members of the Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE), a labor union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which was recognized by OSU three years ago as the exclusive bargaining representative of the majority of its graduate assistants. Presentation of the petition will mark the formal kickoff of CGE's campaign to negotiate paid health insurance benefits this academic year.
"Graduate assistants have been trying for seven years to get OSU to provide us with paid health insurance", said CGE President Luke Ackerman, a Graduate Research Assistant in Chemistry. "It's our biggest employment-related concern and we need OSU to make this their priority, too. Nearly all of our peer institutions, including the University of Oregon, provide their graduate employees with fully-paid health insurance coverage. If they can do it, so can OSU."
"Besides," Ackerman continued, "OSU realizes it must pay for our health insurance, if it intends to compete successfully with other schools for 'the best graduate students in the world.'" In the current draft version of the OSU 2007 Plan, graduate assistants are scheduled to receive a $330 per term health insurance subsidy by the year 2006. "We're glad to see that," Ackerman said, "but unless the timetable is accelerated, very few of today's graduate assistants will benefit and other schools will continue to have a recruiting advantage."
"We know the university is faced with shrinking financial resources from the State of Oregon", Ackerman added, "but we also know OSU can afford the cost of graduate employee health insurance. The University of Oregon currently spends about $2 million a year on graduate assistant health insurance premiums. OSU only contributes about $500,000 to help us pay for our insurance."
OSU provides no health insurance benefits for graduate assistants. However, CGE bargained an agreement with OSU in 2000 that requires the university to pay every graduate assistant who has a 0.2 FTE appointment $110 per term in lieu of health insurance. That agreement allows CGE to renegotiate the issue of health insurance at this time. The ASOSU (student government) offers students a very limited accident and sickness insurance plan, which graduate assistants can purchase for $324 per term.
"Most graduate assistants have few resources," said Ackerman. "A great many of us earn less than $1,000 a month, and some of us make under $700 a month. Spending $200 a term on health insurance puts a huge dent in our budgets." According to a survey CGE did last spring, fully 20% of OSU graduate assistants carry no health insurance at all. Ackerman added, "These co-workers try to stay healthy and avoid seeking medical treatment as long as they can. As a result, many unfortunately develop more severe conditions and end up paying larger medical bills when they finally do see a doctor."