UC Berkeley online GSIs petition for health insurance benefits, tuition remission

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Nearly 150 UC Berkeley School of Public Health students and workers have signed a petition to support online Master of Public Health program, or OOMPH, GSIs being granted health insurance benefits and tuition remission.

The GSIs delivered the petition to Michael Lu, dean of the campus School of Public Health, at a town hall Tuesday. Some OOMPH GSIs are working at 25 percent full-time equivalent this fall without the provision of health insurance premium remission or tuition remission, as required under the UC Student-Workers Union, or UAW Local 2865, contract — according to a press release from the union.

Since the courses OOMPH GSIs teach are eight weeks long, the GSIs were told that they must teach two online courses consecutively or seek extra positions outside OOMPH in order to qualify for these benefits, the release said.

“It’s just a lot of added stress and additional time that can’t go toward what you actually came to Berkeley in the first place,” said UAW Local 2865 member Ashley Wagner.

UAW Local 2865 and the UC system have closed the contract discussing eligibility for benefits, said Andrew Gordon, UC Office of the President spokesperson, in an email. He added that UAW Local 2865 has filed a grievance against the current contract — and that the UC system will review this matter further.

One of the reasons many top applicants choose to attend UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health is because graduate students can benefit from GSI employee health care benefits and tuition remission, Wagner said.

A major drawback for OOMPH GSIs, Wagner pointed out, was that without benefits, GSIs have had to take on additional appointments — which cut into their spare time or even urge them to take out loans.

Like other OOMPH GSIs, Andrea Jacobo finds it very difficult to pay for tuition and health insurance.

“Without a second appointment, it would have been difficult to opt-in to health insurance benefits and pay the rest of my tuition,” Jacobo said in an email.  “I am a returning student after working in the field for the past five years, so I have responsibilities like providing support to my family.”

According to Adam Orford, president of the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly, the assembly has not yet officially considered a position on the petition. Orford said in an email that as a general rule, however, the Graduate Assembly has supported the union’s efforts in the past to advocate improved employment benefits for graduate student workers.

“The financial model for these programs is often different – payment is often per credit, for example, rather than a flat tuition charge,” Orford said in the email. “The programs are often required to support themselves financially, meaning benefits to employees have to be paid for by revenue from other students – and the departments have not always considered how to translate this system into the support for GSIs that more traditional students receive.”

Contact Olivia González Britt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Oliviagbritt.