CMU's graduate student union to bargain for health insurance beginning over winter break



The Graduate Assistant Union at Central Michigan University is the only graduate student union without health insurance in Michigan, union president Michelle Campbell said.

Campbell, a graduate assistant in the English language and literature department, said the GSU was organized in 2009 and has only bargained for one contract so far. Of the graduate assistant unions in the state, CMU's GSU is the newest union compared to those at other universities in Michigan.

Campbell said it’s her understanding that the original bargaining team went into bargaining wanting health insurance, but the administration was not interested in providing it. As a compromise, the GSU agreed to a stipend for full-time graduate assistants. The 2010-13 bargaining agreement states that CMU will provide a wellness allowance of $175 during the academic year 2012-13.

“That doesn’t do much,” Campbell said.

Many graduate assistants are covered under auxiliary plans, Campbell said, such as their parents’ health insurance or an international student plan. She said the GSU has not had any official grievances as far as someone not having any health insurance.

Other universities across Michigan provide medical insurance for graduate student organizations.

The contract for Wayne State University’s Graduate Employees Organizing Committee states that medical insurance is available to all employees covered by the contract. Insurance provides coverage to the employees and their spouses and dependents to the same extent as it is provided to the members of the American Association of University Professors. Dependents between 19 and 25 years old are required to maintain full-time college student status in order to receive medical, dental or vision benefits coverage.

Michigan State University graduate assistants in 2012-13 are automatically enrolled in a graduate assistant health insurance plan, the premium of which is paid by the university. Enrolled students also can insure their eligible spouse and dependent children, and MSU will contribute a total of $2,300 annually toward the cost of coverage.

Western Michigan University contributes $1,025 in 2012-13 toward the premium cost of a student health insurance plan made available by the university to the Teaching Assistants’ Union. WMU’s contribution is proportional to the level of the appointment, and premium payments made to the teaching assistant are deducted in proportional amounts from paychecks.

The Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Michigan is eligible to participate in the university’s health plan coverage programs, including medical and prescription drugs. For individual coverage in any plan in 2012, U-M’s contribution toward the cost of the group health insurance plan premium will be 95 percent of the average premium cost of the two lowest-cost comprehensive plans available to all university employees. U-M’s contribution toward the cost of plan premiums for other tiers of coverage including dependents is calculated so the university pays 85 percent of the aggregated premium cost for all covered individuals.

Campbell said it is too soon to tell how far the graduate assistant union will go in order to bargain for health insurance.

“Right now, we’re just looking into our bargaining platform and our different options,” she said. “We’re confident the administration will realize that healthcare is a basic human right.”

Campbell said the contract does not cover issues such as medical leave or bereavement for the death of a loved one, and it is important for the graduate student union to have health insurance for these situations.

“I think a lot of the things that we’re going to bargain for are basic human rights,” she said. “Those basic human rights are going to be at the forefront of what we’re looking to do at the bargaining table this time around.”

The contract between CMU and the graduate student union ends June 30. Campbell said the graduate student union is in preliminary talks with the administration, and they will meet at the end of November or early December, with hopes to begin bargaining over the winter break and into January and February.


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