By THERESA HOGUE
When doctoral student Tony Masiello injured himself five years ago and received stitches, the injury made him realize the importance of health insurance, and the distinct lack of health coverage for graduate student assistants at Oregon State University.
Masiello looked into how graduate assistants at University of Oregon had gained health insurance, and found out they did so only after forming a union. So when a move to unionize at OSU was announced, he was quick to jump on board.
"It takes a long time to do this," he said. "UO didn't get (insurance) right away. It's a building process."
The Coalition of Graduate Employees was formed three years ago when graduate teaching and research assistants voted to unionize to achieve bargaining rights and legal status, and more specifically, to begin bargaining for health insurance.
But according to Kurt Willcox, an organizer for CGE, graduate assistants at OSU have still not been given health insurance, while all other schools in the Pac-10 offer some form of coverage. When the union formed, the university did not agree to health insurance but decided rather to temporarily contribute $110 per term to graduate assistants working at least .2 FTE. It also agreed to renegotiate the insurance issue after two years.
Members of CGE waited to see if the Oregon University System was going to implement a state-wide student health insurance plan, but when that failed, they decided to renegotiate their contract.
"The reality is, we have many graduate students who don't carry health insurance at all," Willcox said. Students can apply for a health insurance plan through ASOSU, but that costs $324 a term for individual coverage and up to $1,100 a term for family coverage. Some graduate assistants only make $600 a month working for the university, Willcox said.
Willcox disagreed that the current budget issues facing OSU and other universities makes their timing particularly poor.
"We're very well aware the state's financial resources are not that great. But the situation could have been addressed when times were better," Willcox said. "We want to see OSU recruit the best grad students in the world."
That is unlikely to happen, Willcox said, if OSU continues to rank far below peer institutes in health care coverage for graduate students.
CRG has filed a formal demand for bargaining with OSU President Tim White, who was unavailable for comment as of press time Wednesday. Dave Shaw of the Office of Human Resources at OSU couldn't comment on the CGE request, but said the formal bargaining demand begins a 30-day deadline for union officials and administrators to meet and discuss a bargaining schedule. Bargaining should begin this term and could continue through spring term.