Dear fellow graduate workers,
This past year, the Duke Graduate Students Union formed as a direct join-direct action union, with voluntary membership and an immediate say over what issues matter to us most. We are proud to have joined together as Local 27 of SEIU’s Southern Region Workers United!
As the school year comes to a close, you might be wondering: what has DGSU been up to? This past fall semester, our members took arrest in the effort to shut down the federal tax bill provisions that threatened to tax our tuition waivers as income and make graduate education inaccessible for all but the independently wealthy. Soon after, when the Duke administration considered dropping dependent care and adding a deductible to the student health insurance plan, DGSU showed up in force at a public forum to oppose such changes and continued to pressure the administration by meeting with the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee. Through our sustained efforts, we protected our current insurance benefits — including dependent coverage — and ensured that the Graduate School would cover premium increases for graduate students in years 1-6. After uniting with Durham Fight for $15 to make Duke a $15/hour campus, we’ve spent spring semester pressuring Duke to make good on that promise for all workers, including graduate students, whose annual income is often well below a living wage. DGSU has also joined with graduate workers across the country to fight harassment and discrimination on campus by providing resources and assistance to our peers. Between these and other efforts, DGSU has been busy fighting and winning for all Duke graduate workers. To learn more or to get involved, check out what our Pay Regularity, Continuation Fees, Healthcare and Harassment and Discrimination working groups are up to!
To strengthen DGSU’s efforts now and in the future, we ratified a constitution and elected union officers, formalizing our internal leadership and membership accountability. In the coming year, our first cohort of Departmental Stewards will communicate the needs of graduate students across university disciplines to DGSU to ensure that the union is serving all of our members. These structures will enable membership to grow, making our union stronger and more representative of all Duke graduate students workers.
This year has been one of transition, institution-building and many wins on behalf of Duke graduate workers. We’ve established relationships with other unions in Durham and across the country as part of a national movement organizing higher education. As a direct join-direct action union, we are both part of a long history of labor organizing outside the strictures of the National Labor Relations Act and at the forefront of the contemporary labor movement in this country. Specifically, we act in solidarity with other unions in the right-to-work South who have been fighting and winning without the guarantee of collective bargaining. As part of the Service Employees International Union, we are united with two million workers taking a stand for fair treatment and better conditions. In the words of SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, DGSU is “a glimpse into the future of the labor movement.”
DGSU is only as strong as its membership. Join us in fighting for a better Duke and become a member today.
Laura Bellows, Public Policy
Chase Gregory, Literature
Chris Huebner, English
Danica Schaffer-Smith, Environment
On behalf of the Duke Graduate Students Union
Dear fellow graduate workers,
Members of DGSU attended a meeting of the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee (SHIAC) last Friday to ensure that important health insurance benefits for graduate students would not be cut. SHIAC discussed three proposed changes to the Duke Student Health Insurance plan.
The first change to come under consideration was the addition of a deductible—of either $250, $500 or $750—to the health insurance plan. A deductible would increase the amount of health care costs paid directly by individuals on the plan, in addition to co-pays for medical visits and co-insurance payments for medical treatments.
Several members of the committee noted that including a deductible would add an additional obstacle for students in need of healthcare and would especially affect student access to mental healthcare. One committee member, who was associated with Duke CAPS, noted that increasing the costs that students would have to pay out of their own pocket might encourage students to view certain healthcare, especially for mental health, as optional.
The committee also considered making changes to the benefits of the current health insurance plan. Most of the conversation focused on the possibility of removing dependent care from the plan, which would lead to significant savings in the plan’s cost liability. A GPSC student representative to SHIAC voiced graduate student opposition to removing dependent care, saying that doing so would be appalling. Another member of the committee also spoke against removing dependent care, noting that Duke’s peer institutions are making decisions to increase support for dependent coverage through their health insurance plans.
Much of the meeting focused on how much plan premiums would need to increase in order to account for the rising costs of healthcare as well as an increase in claims made through the plan. DGSU members and GPSC representatives in attendance spoke about the massive burden these costs would pose to graduate and professional students and argued that Duke University should commit more funds to graduate education in order to make these costs more manageable.
After further discussion, SHIAC came to a consensus. The Committee’s recommendation was to increase premiums to $3,500 per year (a 20% increase from current premiums), to keep the plan without a deductible, and to maintain the plan’s current benefits, including dependent care and out-of-network coverage. The SHIAC recommendation also includes a request that the university increase funding for graduate and professional students in order to cover these rising costs.
The recommendation will be passed on to Larry Moneta, Duke’s Vice President of Student Affairs, who is expected to make a final decision on the proposal in the next few weeks. DGSU will work to ensure that SHIAC’s recommendation is followed and that important health insurance benefits are protected. Also, DGSU is currently circulating a petition that calls on the University to raise pay and increase funding for Graduate Student Workers. Please click this link to sign the petition!
DGSU made a strong showing at a recent town hall to voice our concerns about proposed changes to Duke’s student health insurance coverage. The town hall, organized by the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee (SHIAC), was also attended by Kevin Welch, the Associate Director of Business & Finance at Duke Student Health, and Susan Wasiolek, the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students.
DGSU learned that premium costs for the current health insurance plan are expected to rise by ten to twenty percent, based on estimates that Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) provided Duke University. In order to reduce these costs, BCBS provided Duke and SHIAC representatives with a list of suggested changes to the current insurance plan, including removing dependent care, eliminating coverage for underused services, getting rid of affordable access to out-of-network care, or adding a more expensive deductible to the plan.
Based on conversations with graduate students over the past two years, DGSU developed an agenda for a better Duke that makes reliable and affordable healthcare access a top priority. In our conversations with colleagues across the university, we heard loud and clear that graduate students need pro-family policies as well as full coverage and access to university health and wellness resources. In order to elevate the voices of the thousands of graduate students who couldn't attend the forum in person, DGSU members spoke out strongly against the possible removal of dependent care in particular, a cut that would predominantly affect women, single parents, and older students. Members also noted that the option to add dependent care should be made more affordable, instead of being removed altogether. Both the administrators present agreed that cutting dependent care would be morally reprehensible; however, neither were willing or able to publicly commit to not removing dependent care from future Duke student health insurance plans.
DGSU maintains that shifting higher premium costs onto students while removing important coverage is unacceptable for a university as wealthy as Duke. The university has a responsibility to provide decent and affordable healthcare for graduate workers who put countless hours of labor into the university and often bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars of external grant and fellowship money. The amount of money in question to cover these rising costs, quoted to total about $2 million, is a negligible amount to Duke but increasing premiums and deductibles by hundreds of dollars represent an enormous financial burden to individual graduate students making $22,000 or less in a year.
We are deeply concerned about the prospect of Duke asking graduate students to absorb nearly $2 million in rising healthcare costs when many of us are already struggling to make ends meet. With healthcare costs rising nationwide and cost of living in Durham increasing, the university must make a plan to provide for its graduate workers, or graduate work at Duke will become all but financially impossible for anyone but the independently wealthy. We will continue to reach out to graduate students across campus to hear their perspective on Duke's proposed cuts and campaign for better and more affordable health insurance coverage for all Duke graduate students.
In solidarity with strikes occurring around the world on International Women's Day, DGSU organized a rally featuring speeches from DGSU members Jess Issacharoff, Laura Jaramillo, Anastasia Kārklina, and Inbal Fischer; MaryBe McMillan, President of NC AFL-CIO; Melina Logan of Fight For 15; Marion Quirici and Jen Ansley of Duke Faculty Union; and Julia Longo of Workers Union at UNC
Local news coverage included an article in the Herald-Sun about DGSU's work to improve graduate worker stipends and an interview with DGSU co-chair Jess Issacharoff with Spectrum News.
Read the March edition of the DGSU Monthly Digest below: