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By Danielle Chaloux

UConn students who walked through either the Student Union or Wilbur Cross last week would have noticed people in blue t-shirts working throughout the buildings.

“The people in the blue shirts, this is what democracy looks like,” said Cera Fisher, a PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She spoke on behalf of the Graduate Employee’s Union – UAW Local 6950, formed last April.

The union is working to negotiate their first contract with the university and was protesting the administration’s slowness with working on the issue. The contract will cover workers’ and employers’ rights.

“We really just want the same rights that employees have all over the country, some of those things are being protected from discrimination and harassment in the workplace, having adequate health insurance to cover ourselves, our spouses, and our children,” Fisher said.

Another issue on the agenda are the high fees that UConn charges to graduate students, in comparison to their paychecks. Graduate students are responsible for anywhere from $1100 dollars to $11,000 dollars per semester, depending on the number of credits and in-state or out-of-state status.

To the student, this has direct repercussions.

“They give me my money and I turn around and pay them 10 percent after taxes, which is upsetting,” Fisher said.

The agreement will hopefully include other protections, including workload protections, to prevent the balance of school and work from  swinging too far towards work, and keeping graduate students from getting their degrees.

We feel forgotten sometimes,” Fisher said. “When people are talking about students, they’re not talking about us, and when people are talking about employees, they’re not talking about us.”

Fisher also had a message for undergraduates: “part of why we’re doing this is because we care about teaching you, and we want to make sure that we have the energy to teach you well.”

The negotiation process can be followed on gradunion.uconn.edu, where negotiation summaries, contract proposals, and tentative agreements can be found. According to university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz: “we work to keep it constantly updated, so it’s a great resource to check periodically to keep up on the status of the discussions.”

Photo courtesy Cera Fisher.

Correction: UConn graduate students who work as Teaching Assistants or Research Assistants have their tuition waived by the university. TAs and RAs still need to pay the mandatory student fees, which consist of the general university fee, the infrastructure fee, and the graduate flat fee. UConn’s classification of TAs and RAs means that graduate students are designated as full time, and are charged the maximum amount for the fees. The fees for every TA or RA are $1,135 per semester.