By Alyssa Hughes
Over 100 graduate students gathered in the Student Union on Tuesday, chanting and holding signs. Graduate student Siavash Samei said the wants of his fellow colleagues are simple.
“It’s healthcare, it’s wages, it’s our student fees,” Samei said.
Although the UConn Graduate Employee Union first gained recognition from the university in April 2014, members had not yet been able to come to an agreement with UConn.That’s what led to the over two hour sit-in on Tuesday,
“We’ve been bargaining with the university for about a year and there were long stretches of time where they would only meet with us for two hours every two weeks,” said Erin Bartram, a PhD candidate in the history department. “They thought that was an acceptable amount of time for a first contract but it’s come down to the end of the year and we’re getting close for when we actually would to have a contract settled for it to go into place in the fall. Some of these big issues like wages and work loads and fees and health insurance are still massive sticking points and the university simply will not budge.”
At the end of the day on Tuesday, members of the UConn Graduate Employee Union announced the sit-in paid off: they had reached a tentative agreement with the university. According to a press release about the tentative agreement, there will be improvements on compensation and rights.
“The university always treats us as students but we are employees. We are state employees, we signed a contract with the state. The university needs to start treating us as employees like they treat any other employee in the state. But it’s cheaper for them to treat us as students so we don’t get employee benefits, we get student benefits,” Samei said.
Bartram said the demands differ between a lot of the graduate students based on the different kinds of occupations each person holds within the university. One of the overall burdens for many of them however, she said, involve student fees.
“It’s oppressive at this point and it basically means that the stipend you’re ‘offered’ by the university is a lie if you have to pay $2,300 back in fees,” Bartram said.
Because of these challenges, Bartram said “there are a lot of people who are living really close or below the poverty line because of these fees.”
WHUS will continue to follow the story as the contract goes through the next steps of ratification.