23 Jan

Bargaining Update #16: Happy Anniversary?

Bargaining Update #16: January 21st, 2016 Negotiation Session

Happy Anniversary? Today, January 23rd, officially marks one full year in contract negotiations. While we’ve been going at this for what seems like forever, we are making considerable progress and, if all goes well, the end will be in sight soon. The negotiating team is still going strong and remains focused and determined. As always, we need you to stay energized and engaged to keep this process moving forward. Talk to your friends about negotiations. Hook up with the Contract Action Team. Share this update on Facebook. Write an op-ed. Hire a sky writer.  Help us to help you get the contract you deserve!

On to business. Thursday’s negotiation session was full of energy with both sides truly looking for the best possible solutions to the proposals on the agenda. Thursday’s agenda included part-time parity, evaluations, pay periods, and materials and resources. Here’s the latest wrap-up.

 

Part-Time Parity

We all know about the financial inequality facing part-time Graduate Assistants. As it stands, half-time assistants are automatically billed tuition for a full-time course load regardless of how many credits they are registered for. They then receive a half-tuition waiver. This means a part-time Graduate Assistant enrolled in 6 credits is disproportionately charged full time tuition, leaving them poorer than if they hadn’t taken an assistantship in the first place. In addition, they do not receive a 20% student fee waiver, nor do they receive a parking pass fee waiver. In short, part-time Graduate Assistants are left out of their fair share of benefits to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Update: This issue is being looked into by many parties, under the direction of Dean Zawia. We’ll report back with any progress as we learn more.

 

Performance Evaluations

As you may recall, we signed a tentative agreement in a previous session clarifying that GAs should receive a written evaluation regarding their job performance each year.  We still need to agree as to whether a direct observation needs to be part of the evaluation process, as our contract currently states.

 

Pay periods

As it currently stands, we are paid for 36 out of 38 weeks, with two weeks of unpaid vacation over the winter break, divided into 18 pay periods over the course of the academic year. In practice, we receive a paycheck over the winter break, but we do not receive a “final” paycheck in the spring to account for the unpaid vacation time during winter break. However, we learned last week that 18 pay periods appear to be the best possible arrangement at this time, as adding a pay period would result in you losing money due to federal taxes. We expect the administration to draft clear language to be included in offer letters to articulate this up front for all Grad Assistants at the start of their contract.

Update: The administration provided drafted language to clearly state when you will receive your final paycheck and to explain how pay periods work. We also worked together to add language to offer letters to announce that student fees can be paid via the newly created “deferment plan,” which allows Graduate Assistants to pay their student fees in installments over the semester rather than all at once. These changes will appear in next year’s appointment letters.

 

Materials and Resources

We are looking to add a new article regarding the provision of proper resources and space to Graduate Assistants so you can do your job effectively. We have drafted language that states Graduate Assistants can expect to have adequate office space/lab space, appropriate supplies, access to a copier, etc. As far as we know, Graduate Assistants are not regularly lacking lab or office supplies or being prohibited from accessing the copy machine (if this IS happening in your department, please let us know immediately!), but we would like to see this right clearly identified in the contract. It is good for Graduate Assistants to know what they can expect in terms of departmental workspace, materials and resources to support their work, and it is good for departments to know what is expected of them. We would also like to see a sentence in the contract that states Graduate Asssitants will not be required to pay for lab or office supplies needed for their job out of their own pocket. This will continue to be discussed in future sessions.

09 Jan

Bargaining Update #15

Bargaining Update #15: January 7th, 2016 Negotiation Session

Happy New Year, brothers and sisters! We are pleased to report that we began the new year with a productive bargaining session. Thursday’s agenda included pay periods, part-time parity, evaluations, disabilities, and leaves of absence. Let’s get down to business.

 

Pay periods

Thank you for everyone’s quick response to the survey we sent out regarding the two-week pay gap at the end of the spring semester. For some background, as it currently stands, we are paid for 36 out of 38 weeks, with two weeks of unpaid vacation over the winter break, divided into 18 pay periods over the course of the academic year. In practice, we receive a paycheck over the winter break, but we do not receive a “final” paycheck in the spring to account for the unpaid vacation time during winter break. Your survey responses indicate the absence of a final paycheck places an undue burden on many of us, who can go up to 4 weeks without pay between the end of the spring semester and the start of any summer income we plan to earn.

We heard you loud and clear and brought this up at our last bargaining session. We asked the administration and payroll to explore adding an additional (19th) pay period to the end of the year so the pay gap is lessened.

Payroll joined us once again on Thursday to share an anticlimactic update. According to payroll,  an additional paycheck  would have an undesirable  consequence– a pay cut.

Long Explanation: IRS regulations require URI to deduct FICA taxes  from your paycheck when classes are not in session (summer break). Since the 19th paycheck would overlap into a pay period  when classes aren’t in session, we would have to pay  7.6% in taxes due to, say it with me now, FICA! This means an additional $63.38 would be taken out of the 19th paycheck. You work hard for your money and recognize that  trading a pay cut to gain access to a 19th check is not a fair deal. As a result, both sides decided that the current setup should remain in place at this time.  But wait, we’re not done yet. You still need to be able to manage that pay gap, so we explored ways for the administration to do a more effective job of notifying all Grad Assistants about the pay gap in the offer letter you receive at the start of your employment so you can plan accordingly. The administration has agreed to draft language for the offer letter that clearly states that you will not receive a paycheck for the last two weeks of your assistantship and explains why  so no one is left wondering where their last paycheck went.

TL;DR 18 pay periods  appear to be the best possible arrangement at this time, as adding a pay period would result in you losing money due to federal taxes. We expect the administration to draft  clear language to be included in offer letters to articulate this up front for all Grad Assistants at the start of their contract.

 

Part-Time Parity

Next we tried to rekindle the discussion about the financial inequality facing part-time Graduate Assistants. As it stands, half-time assistants have automatically been billed tuition for a full-time course load, but only receive a half-tuition waiver, regardless of how many credits they are registered for. In addition, they do not receive a 20% student fee waiver, nor do they receive a parking pass fee waiver. In short, part-time Graduate Assistants are left out of their fair share of benefits. We are waiting on the administration to schedule meetings in order to determine viable options for solving this inequity as it relates to the tuition billed.  The administration assured us that they will do the necessary research on their end and that this will be at the top of the agenda at our next meeting.

 

Performance Evaluations

As you may recall, we signed a tentative agreement in a previous session clarifying that GAs should receive a written evaluation regarding their job performance each year.  We still need to agree as to whether a direct observation needs to be part of the evaluation process, as our contract currently states.

Many of you reported that annual job-related evaluations do not take place in your department, period, never mind you receiving a written synopsis of that evaluation that includes a direct observation. We want our contract to reflect the actual process that you can expect so you have appropriate feedback on your performance as a GA. We were told that the Council of Deans recognizes that there is an issue with the current job evaluation process- namely, that it isn’t regularly occurring for Grad Assistants. We were told that they are working on a “basic feedback system for Graduate Assistants.” We are eager to hear back about what develops in this regard over the semester.

 

Disabilities

We also discussed the fact that neither the Graduate Manual or our contract mention where a graduate assistant in need of  accommodations for disabilities can turn for support as far as their work duties are concerned. Graduate Assistants with disabilities often need a different set of accommodations than students, and we want to be sure those accommodations are recognized and accounted for in our contract.  The administration is looking into the process currently in place and will hopefully propose  updated language for the contract at our next session.

 

Leave of Absence (LOA)

As it stands, the language in our contract regarding leaves is confusing. We have been working for several sessions to clear up this language.   If you take a leave of absence from your academics, you are no longer considered a Graduate Assistant and, therefore, lose all of the benefits afforded to you under our contract. This has led to a number of disturbing situations where graduate assistants had been convinced by their department to take a leave of absence rather than utilize contractual leaves (ie parental, maternity or any other leave articulated in our contract) so a new GA could be hired to take their place.

The Graduate Manual has been updated to encourage anyone seeking a leave of absence of any kind to consult with the Assistant Dean of the Graduate School, who will work to ensure that all options are explored and to protect grad assistants from being coerced into options that may be beneficial to their department but harmful to them personally.  We are also discussing the dubious phrasing in the maternity leave section that refers to pregnancy as though it is an emergency evacuation situation. Article 21.3 currently starts out saying “In the event of a pregnancy, a leave of absence shall be granted to graduate assistants with six (6) months or more of service.” Unless pregnancy involves preparing for a water landing in an airplane, we’d like to see this language updated to something less urgent and more inclusive for not only pregnancy but the adoption of a child or pregnancy-related complications.  We are also looking into what we can do to articulate the intent of article 21.4 given that Grad Assistants do not currently qualify for family leave under the Rhode Island Parental and Family and Medical Leave Act.

FUN FACT #1: Have you noticed that the overall order of our contract appears to have very little rhyme or reason?  Now we now know why! It turns out that our contract is “organized” based on the order in which each article was agreed to when the contract was originally negotiated back in 2002. . We will hopefully be able to reorganize the contract in a more logical way this time around.

 

Our next negotiating session is scheduled for Thursday, January 21, 2016, from 2-4pm. We’d love your feedback on any of the topics above.   

11 Dec

Bargaining Update #14

Before we get to the bargaining update, we would like to share a few thoughts on behalf of the Negotiating Team about Wednesday’s Grade-In and Rally for Raises. We’d like to begin this post by extending our warmest thanks to the whole lot of you who occupied the hallway outside of Wednesday’s negotiating session. Your support was instrumental to helping us push forward. We hope all of you will decide to visit again! Your involvement will make this process move faster and will have a better end result than our efforts in the negotiating room alone.  Direct action gets the goods!

On to the actual bargaining update.

This week’s negotiating session was dominated by discussion regarding pay periods, unpaid leave and the pay gap we experience at the end of the spring semester. We also discussed accumulating and discharging  sick time job evaluations and attempted to discuss part time parity, but the administration’s team was not prepared with the research they were expected to bring to discuss this issue in depth.

Jim Cacciola from payroll joined us in Wednesday’s negotiating session to answer questions related to pay periods, access to sick leave and what the story is about the two weeks of unpaid of leave we are supposed to have, but do not always seem to have access to.

Pay Periods, Unpaid Leave and the End of Spring “Pay Gap”

As you may know, we are required to work  36 out of 38 weeks of work, starting on Advising Day in the fall and ending on Commencement Day in the spring. We receive a stipend for a total of 36 weeks of work with two weeks of “unpaid leave” that is supposed to (but does not always) occur over the winter break. Regardless of when you actually take your two weeks of unpaid leave, we are paid for 36 consecutive weeks and do not receive a final paycheck at the end of the spring because we are “paid” for our “unpaid leave” over the winter break. This leads to many of us experiencing a major gap in pay that can interfere with your ability to pay your rent and bills. We finally had the opportunity to propose a solution for the fact that we “lose” this final paycheck.  We asked Mr. Cacciola if it would be possible to spread out our stipends to include one more pay period so we don’t have to be penniless at the end of the spring. He and the administration seemed interested in this potential solution to close the gap and will look into any sort of complications that would prevent payroll from being able to make this change. What do you think of this solution? We’d like to hear from you. Send us an email and let us know your thoughts.

Accumulating and Discharging Sick Time

We learned on Wednesday that the university is committed to upholding your right to utilize your sick time. Using accumulated sick time at once should *not* result in you losing your position as a GA. It is part of your contract and you are protected from being let go for taking sick time. We were able to confirm that the university is fully aware of this right and will act to protect you from any sort of labor practice that limits this right.

Job Evaluations

We reviewed the results of the evaluation survey that many of you filled out. One of the major revelations from the survey was the fact that the vast majority of GAs at URI are not having an annual job evaluation, as required by Article XXVI of our contract. Our contract states that you should have an annual conference with your supervisor, just like with any other job, where you discuss your performance as a TA/RA/AA and are able to get feedback as needed on your performance. You should then receive a written summary of your meeting from your supervisor. We discussed how we would like to go about ensuring that these reviews take place, what a GA should expect from their supervisor in terms of the content of that evaluation, and whether or not the contract needs to be adjusted to reflect best practices to ensure your review is fruitful and useful to you.

We are breaking for the holidays, and will hold our next session after the new year on Thursday, January 7, 2016 at 2PM. We hope the CAT will continue its hard work and will consider visiting us more often!

 

In Solidarity,

GAU Negotiating Team

04 Dec

GAU Grade-In and Rally for Raises

Graduate Assistants United is holding a Grade-In and Rally for Raises on Wednesday, December 9, 2015 from 12pm-3:30pm at the Robert Carothers Library at URI’s Kingston Campus. Please RSVP via Facebook or by emailing us at uri.gau@gmail.com so we can be sure we have enough room, rally signs and coffee for all. This event is shaping up to be our largest, most significant collective action in our history as a union. Here are the essential details so you can do your part to secure the competitive wage and benefits that you deserve:

 

What is a “Grade In”?

A grade in as an opportunity to show our community what we do. As you know, Grad Assistants at URI do much of their work behind the scenes. We cluster in our departments working at all different times of the day and night, holding meetings with students, researching in our labs, teaching, supporting our departments, counseling clients, caring for the sick, healing the injured, advising undergrads, and countless other tasks that often go unnoticed by more than those outside of our immediate circle. A Grade In allows us to demonstrate all that we do to the public so the entire URI community can see just how much we contribute to the university’s day to day operations.

 

Where and when will the Grade-In take place?

We will be gathering in the 24 hour room of the Carothers Library at URI’s Kingston campus at 12pm on Wednesday, November 9th. We will be actively demonstrating from 12pm-2:30pm. Please wear your GAU shirts, bring your rally signs, and be ready to do what you do best—be a fantastic, dedicated, hardworking Graduate Assistant!

 

Didn’t you also mention a Rally?

At 2:40, we will gather in the foyer of the library with our signs and march together to Roosevelt Hall, where contract negotiations will be taking place. We will line the hallways and continue to do our work, but this time we will be right where our negotiating team and the administration’s negotiating team will need to pass to begin their 22nd negotiating session at 3pm. Together, we will make sure that our negotiating team can feel our support and respectfully show the administration’s team that we are paying attention, actively engaged, and as determined as ever to secure the contract that we deserve.

 

What is the purpose of holding a Grade In?

The objective is to make ourselves more visible on campus so we are recognized as an integral part of URI’s ecosystem. We are the invisible cogs in the machine who need to become HIGHLY visible if we want to be paid a competitive wage.  Furthermore, it is essential that we highlight to the administration that we are paying attention. We are deeply committed to ensuring our next contract is as strong as possible, and need the entire community behind us as we fight for the raises we deserve.

 

What am I expected to do at the Grade In?

Work. Do EXACTLY what you do every single day here at URI, but this time we’re all going to do it together. Teaching Assistants, bring your towering stack of papers that you need to grade. Hold your office hours at the library. Answer student emails. Research Assistants, bring your laptop and analyze your data. Crunch your numbers. Read your literature. Write your manuscript. Department assistants, forward your phone to your cell, bring your laptop, and do the exact job you would be doing in private in public. Whatever it is that you’d be doing on Wednesday from 12-3, do it as one large group of Grad Assistants who are determined to stick together in solidarity to secure a living, competitive wage, and fair benefits for us all.

 

What do I need to bring with me?

Aside from the materials you need to do your work, please wear your GAU t-shirt. If you don’t yet have one, we’ll have a few extras on hand at the event but if you already have one please wear it! We are running low on our t-shirt supply after a highly active semester, so please only take one from our dwindling supply if you don’t already have one.

We also need signs. We’ll be having a sign making pizza party on Monday night from 6-8PM in CBLS 10 and need as many people as possible to come get crafty with us so we have the best visibility possible for Wednesday. Please RSVP to Monday’s sign making party so we’re sure to have enough food for everyone via facebook or by emailing us at uri.gau@gmail.com.

 

What is the official agenda for Wednesday’s Grade-In?

Join us in the library’s 24 hour room from 12-2:30pm to demonstrate the essential role you play at URI in a highly visible, public display of solidarity. At 2:40, we will gather in the foyer of the library, then march over to Roosevelt Hall and line the hallways leading up to the negotiating room where our contract negotiating team will be meeting with the administration for their 22nd negotiating session. Let’s ensure that our team can feel our support and the administration can see that we are paying attention and fully engaged in ensuring that we get the contract that we deserve!

 

I want to be at Wednesday’s event, but I’ll be stuck __________(teaching, in class, on a boat in the middle of the ocean, etc). What can I do to show my support?

Wear your GAU shirt on Wednesday and take a picture with everyone in your class/department/oceanic vessel/etc to show your support from a distance. Post your awesome pic on Facebook using the hashtags #URIGAU and #WeNeedARaise to show solidarity with those at the event and in the negotiating room. Don’t forget to share the pic with GAU (https://www.facebook.com/urigau/) too!

30 Nov

HarvestFest 2015

A big thank you to everyone that came out and made HarvestFest a huge success this year. 94 Graduate Assistants joined us for the biggest Harvestfest turnout yet. It is always such a great time to bring together Grad Assistants from departments all across campus.

 

In addition to the delicious meal and engaging discussions we shared, it was important to take care of a few business items with so many Grad Assistants together in one room. We presented both a year in review recap and a negotiation update. Be sure to follow our bargaining blog to stay up-to-date on what is happening in the negotiation room. Nick Constant, a negotiation committee member, also spread the news about the upcoming Grade In event. A Grade In is an opportunity for Graduate Assistants to come do their work in one centralized location in order to show how much we do for the University. This is especially important during this contract year to unite for the raise we deserve. Join us for the Grade In on December 9 at 12pm in the URI Robert Carothers Library.

 

Financial topics were also addressed at this meeting. The 2015-2016 budget was presented by our treasurer, Erin McLean. The budget was unanimously approved. A final topic regarding uncollected dues was also discussed.  A payroll snafu from the first week of the semester resulted in a failure to deduct GAU dues, or about $6.34 from your first paycheck (which was for half of a pay period). Members voted to determine how we should recover these lost dues, as they resulted in a substantial budget deficit for our very slim organization. Members present voted as to whether they would prefer to have the uncollected dues deducted from their paycheck in one pay cycle or to divide the approximately six dollar deduction over two pay periods. The final vote was in favor of  deducting the uncollected dues once, during the December 4 pay period, to reconcile the budget deficit.

 

HarvestFest was just one example of increased GAU membership involvement this semester. Let’s finish the year strong with a big turnout to the Grade In and then carry this excitement over into the next semester.

20 Nov

HarvestFest 2015 Agenda

HarvestFest 2015

Graduate Assistants United’s fall General Membership meeting will be held on Friday, November 20, 2015 at 95 Upper College Road (formerly known as the University Club). The agenda for the event is as follows:

HarvestFest 2015 Agenda

  1.    Appetizers: 5:00 – 5:15
  2.    Welcome: Elizabeth Brannon, Vice President (5:15 – 5:20)
  3.    Negotiation Update and Year in Review: Melissa Burger, President (5:20 – 5:40)
  4.    Contract Action Team Update: Nicholas Constant, Negotiation Committee Member (5:40 -6:00)
    Details regarding upcoming CAT Walk and Grade In Event
  5.     Dinner (6:00 – 6:15)
  6.    Dues: Danielle Dirocco, Executive Director (6:15 – 6:20)
    Explanation of options for reconciling budget deficit due to uncollected dues from the first week of the semester
  7.   Finances Presentation- Erin McLean, Treasurer (6:20 – 6:30)
    Review of 2014-2015 budget
    Overview and vote on the 2015-2016 GAU budget
  8.     Closing Remarks- Melissa Burger, President
  9.    Group photo
02 Nov

Bargaining Update #13

We have made significant headway in the past two negotiation sessions! Read on to learn more concerning an update on hourly graduate student workers vs. Graduate Assistants, deadlines for sending notices of continuation of appointment and GPA checks, informing students of their personal progress toward degree completion and part-time parity for part time Graduate Assistants.

Mitigating confusion regarding Hourly Grads (aka pseudo-assistantships) vs. Graduate Assistants

Several of you have inquired about benefits for “hourly graduate employees,” graduate students who work as departmental assistants across campus and are paid via the graduate student payroll on an hourly basis. Some departments have taken to calling hourly graduate employees “graduate assistants”, which has led to some confusion as to whether or not they are covered by the GAU contract and entitled to the benefits our contract guarantees. We addressed this issue in both sessions, and the Administration has clarified that graduate students paid on an hourly basis do not receive the same benefits as Graduate Assistants. This is due to the fact that colleges have access to a limited number of official Graduate Assistantships, whose component parts are strictly controlled. In order to avoid confusion regarding these positions, the compensation and/or benefits (as applicable) awarded to hourly grads should be enumerated by the individual hiring departments in their respective grants.

Notices of continuation of appointment and GPA checks

The next topic on the agenda tackled the uncertainty surrounding appointment deadlines for assistantships. There is currently no set date by which a graduate student could expect to receive an appointment letter confirming his or her position as a Graduate Assistant for the following academic year. GAU has proposed establishing a firm notification date where departments notify their current Grad Assistants as to whether or not their assistantship will be available the following year. If the deadline approaches and the department doesn’t know if funding will be available, the department should tell the Grad Assistant this fact so they can be fully aware of the status of their funding as early as possible and can consider alternate sources of funding in a timely fashion if the need arises. It appears that the administration and graduate school are on board with setting a deadline for notification of July 1, barring any case-specific extenuating circumstances. We will confirm this in our next negotiating session and determine how the graduate school and administration intends to implement this deadline.

Qualifying for an Assistantship: GPA Check

According to our contract, a Graduate Assistant must maintain a 3.0 GPA to be eligible for an assistantship. This begs the question, “When are GPAs actually checked?” We were fortunate to be able to discuss this issue with Dean Zawia at length. He described the current process as follows:

A Graduate student’s GPA is checked once at the end of the Fall and Spring semesters.

  • Half-Year Assistantships- Your assistantship length matters here. If your GPA drops below a 3.0, you have until the end of your “appointment period” to bring your GPA back up to good standing. You will receive a provisional status letter from by the Graduate School in January for the fall and June/July for the summer if your GPA drops below a  3.0. If your assistantship is for a single semester, it is within a department’s rights to not offer a subsequent assistantship, as your GPA is no longer high enough to qualify you for an assistantship.
  • If your assistantship is for a full year and your GPA drops below 3.0 at the end of Fall Semester, a provisional status letter is sent to you by January notifying you of your low GPA and articulating what they must do during the spring semester to bring their GPA up to remain in good academic standing. You are allowed to remain on your assistantship, at the discretion of your department, until the end of the appointment period- that is, the end of the spring semester, to bring their GPA up to a 3.0.  To qualify for a subsequent assistantship the following fall, you will have to have a GPA of 3.0 at the start of the appointment period.

Evaluation/progress toward degree completion updates

It has come to our attention that a disparity exists in departmental feedback regarding students’ progress toward degree completion across departments and colleges; some Graduate Assistants are receiving great feedback, whereas others are receiving none. To this end, we have produced a short survey, where you can let us know if you are receiving quality feedback from your advisor as to your progress and performance. Please take a couple of minutes to complete it–the information will help us greatly in the coming negotiation sessions. Please only take the survey ONCE.

Part-Time Parity

We concluded our second session with a preliminary discussion about the financial inequality facing part-time Graduate Assistants. As it stands, half-time assistants are automatically billed tuition for a full-time course load, as they are set to receive a half-tuition waiver. They do not receive a 20% student fee waiver, nor do they receive a parking pass fee waiver. In short, part time Graduate Assistants are left out from their fair share of benefits. We are developing  a summary for the next meeting that accurately depicts part-time assistants’ financial outlook and will propose an alternative solution that puts our part-time members on equal footing with their full-time counterparts. Do not hesitate to reach out if you have any personal stories to share regarding any of the topics mentioned in this post.

 

Our next negotiation session will be held on Friday, November 20, 2015 at 10:45 AM.

09 Oct

Bargaining Update #12

Today’s negotiating session was especially productive.  Read on for updates on  the Grad Assistant Fee Payment Plan, External Employment and Leaves of Absence.

Graduate Assistant Student Fee “Payment Plan”

Our session began with a productive visit from the Vice Provost of Enrollment Management, Dr. Dean Libutti. Dr. Libutti updated us on the status of the graduate assistant “payment plan”, which is now called a deferment request in order to comply with federal tax regulations. We learned that the original form to request the deferment lacked important information, and have since updated the form to reflect these changes. In addition to the updated form, there are two important details about the deferment plan that we’d like to specifically highlight to you:

  1. The graduate student fee deferment request plan will only be available to full time Graduate Assistants this year.
  2. If you pay your final installment of fall student fees by December 31, the IRS will count that payment towards your 2015 1098-T, which is used to determine your eligibility for education credits on your taxes. For more information on the 1098-T and education tax credits, we recommend this basic walk through from Forbes. As always, we recommend you consult a tax professional for advisement regarding your individual financial situation.

External Employment (Second Job)

We are thrilled to report a resounding success in regards to off campus employment. As you know, we have struggled in the past to get the University to unequivocally state that domestic graduate assistants have the right to hold a second job. Last week, the graduate council passed language to be added to the graduate manual, Section 12.34, Conditions of Appointment to Assistantships. The new language will appear in the next edition of the Graduate Manual, as follows. Underlined sections are new content:

“Students on assistantships are not eligible for additional on campus academic year employment without permission of the Dean of the Graduate School (see GAU contract). Such permission must be obtained prior to beginning the additional on campus employment. Off campus employment is not governed by these policies. If a student seeks employment off campus (not compensated by university funds), such employment should not conflict with the duties and responsibilities of the assistantship and satisfactory progress toward degree completion.”

The administration and GAU have also agreed to change the GAU Contract to point to this new Grad Manual passage so Grad Assistants can clearly see that the University recognizes your right to hold a second job.  The administration’s team has agreed to draft new contract language to remove references to the outdated Swan Memo and to clarify the intent of that memo by stating its contents. We expect to see their proposed language changes at our next negotiating session.

Leaves of Absence

We are beginning what we anticipate will be a lengthy discussion regarding leaves of absence. One of the major issues that has been reported to us in the past has revolved around Grad Assistants finding themselves pushed into taking a leave of absence, particularly for maternity leave, when taking such a leave results in the loss of our contractual right to six weeks of paid parental leave. Both GAU and the administration agree that Grad Assistants should have an impartial leave advisor who can discuss your options with you and help you to make decisions that put you and your needs first. The administration’s negotiating team has agreed to come back to us with proposed language for the Graduate Manual that establishes a point of contact in the Graduate School for Graduate Assistants to reach out to to discuss leave options.

As we continue on this topic in upcoming negotiating sessions, we will also be addressing access to your two weeks of unpaid time off and the accumulation and utilization of sick leave.

Our next negotiating session will take place on Monday, October 19th, 2015 at 1:30PM.

07 Oct

Complaint: New Email Accounts

This post was received by email from a concerned Graduate Assistant.

Dear GAU,

I’m writing on behalf of a number of graduate students regarding the recent email change-over instigated by Human Resources. While I have heard graduate students complain that the @my.uri.edu email address is unprofessional, and that they would like @uri.edu accounts, this recent change-over was poorly managed, and frankly more of a circus sideshow than a well orchestrated IT maneuver.
First, graduate students (and even some administrators) were not notified ahead of time of this change over. Prior notification of a major email switch is necessary to facilitate the transition: students can then notify professional contacts of the e-mail change, etc. Second, despite the “Preferred E-Mail Contact” setting in e-Campus, the university has decided that the new @uri.edu email will be our primary contact email. This is a blatant disregard for our contact preferences, and ignores a long-standing preference set in e-Campus that should be respected (why have the setting at all?). Further, the changes went into effect near the beginning of September, but students were not notified until today (October 6th). To clarify, important emails from URI including emails about payroll, campus finances, and even time-sensitive emails from the graduate school were sent to an email address that students did not know existed! This is absurd! Personally, I missed three emails about my tuition bill, two emails from health services, and an email letting me know that my thesis was ready to be picked up for defense. This could have delayed or prevented my graduation and is completely unacceptable. Other students have experienced similar problems, and I will be urging them to bring their complaints to GAU and the university.
On top of this, despite being expected to use this new account as our primary email account, the university did NOT migrate our current contacts/messages/etc. to the new account, nor provide readily available instructions to do so. Additionally, they have DISABLED the message forwarding option making it impossible to forward our IMPORTANT campus email to the email accounts we actually use. I have worked previously in the IT field; one of the most important aspects of an email system transition is the migration of accounts and the allowance of mail forwarding to facilitate user transition. The very definition of an unacceptable email transition in a university setting is one that has the potential to cause harm to student careers, i.e. delaying graduation.
I know that the email transition has little to do with GAU, but I urge GAU to take action based on the notion that this system transition had the potential to directly alter students’ graduation dates.
Thank you for your time,
One concerned student on behalf of many.
21 Sep

Bargaining Update #11

At today’s negotiation session, we tried to finalize old business and brought up a new topic, leaves. We discussed the anticipated payment plan for student fees and pressed for a timely implementation of the plan, as the semester is already well underway. We revised language to be displayed on Enrollment Services’ website as well as our website and the graduate school’s homepage. We also posed questions about logistics (when are payments due? what about the spring semester?) that are being forwarded to Enrollment Services. We will let you know as soon as we have finalized details! As you know, we were assured that this plan would be available at the beginning of the semester.

We then addressed everyone’s favorite topic, parking. We are aware that people are having issues obtaining passes through the new vendor. The Administration has been in touch with Parking Services to see why students are not being recognized as Graduate Assistants by the parking system. In addition, we have also forwarded a list of GAs who have contacted us about not being able to access the correct pass. Whatever you do, please do not pay for a pass! Please let us know if you are unable to select the GA pass and/or have talked to Parking Services without a resolution and we will include your name in the list of those who remain unable to obtain a pass.

We began discussions regarding access to leaves of all types including but not limited to parental leave, medical leave, leaves of absence, unpaid leave, paid leave, and how (or whether) the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to Grad Assistants. We tried to clarify the difference between taking a leave of absence as a student (a leave from your studies) versus a leave of absence as an employee (6 weeks of paid family leave, for example). In the past, some GAs have not been able to access their employee leave, and others have been told they must/should take an academic leave by their department. We brought up the potential consequences for a student who takes an academic leave (for example, if you are no longer a student, you are no longer eligible for an assistantship and could lose the benefits provided by your contract such as health insurance). We asked the Administration to help us clarify these policies and their consequences in our contract. This is a large, complicated issue with many moving parts, but we are determined to gain concrete clarification on what your rights are and get them written out in plain language in our contract.

Our next negotiating session is scheduled for Monday, September 28th at Noon.