Letter to the Editor: UConn should bargain an agreement that achieves our "common goal"

Dear Editor,

As part of the majority of 2200 teaching and research assistants that approved our bargaining agenda earlier this year, we have deep concerns about the University’s slow pace negotiating with our union, GEU-UAW Local 6950, and its resistance to some of our key goals, such as stronger protections against sexual harassment. The University needs to commit more time and move much more quickly so that we can agree on a fair contract for next fall that enhances our ability to provide the critical research and teaching at the heart of UConn’s core missions.

We have read with disappointment about the University’s reluctance so far to embrace our efforts to enhance protections against sexual assault and harassment. Apparently, UConn took over 100 days to respond to our Union’s initial proposal on this important topic, a proposal aimed at making our University community more inclusive and just.

Given the worrisome results of UConn’s own 2016 Campus Climate Survey, we find UConn’s response to our proposals unacceptable. We urge UConn to channel the spirit of Women’s History Month to work harder with our Union to achieve what Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour recently called “a fair agreement with GAs that enhances protections against sexual harassment and promotes gender equity.”

We are also deeply worried about our economic situation next year. With an average gross annual stipend around $20,000--nearly $1400 of which we pay in student fees --, many of us barely make ends meet, but we provide tremendous value to UConn and the State. Building on the improvements in our first contract will help us more easily focus on providing the best possible teaching and research through these hard times.

And while we appreciate the need for careful consideration of budgetary proposals at a time of fiscal crisis in our state, we have been troubled by UConn’s decision to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to an out-of-state law firm to negotiate with our union and the faculty union in recent years.  This is a sign of seriously warped priorities.

Recently, UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz, spoke of the “common goal of ensuring that our graduate assistants are treated fairly...with regard to pay, health care, workload and opportunity.” We demand that the Administration adhere to the spirit of this statement, by negotiating with our Union more frequently and reach a fair agreement promptly.

Roxanne Lebenzon, Anthropology Graduate Student

Sean Ooi, Natural Resources and the Environment Graduate Student