Graduate student employees may be eligible for refunds after an arbitrator ruled that the university violated their contract by not paying for summer health insurance.
The debate between the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association and university administration was over whether or not the university was obligated to pay for the health insurance of teaching and research assistants who worked during summer sessions.
The dispute, which ended in the union’s favor, lasted for more than a year.
An arbitrator decided on Feb. 15 that the university must reimburse all graduate employees who worked during any summer session since 2003 and signed up for the Keystone Point of Service health plan.
The administration long argued that under the contract and the Keystone plan, it was only bound to subsidize 75 percent of the premium during the academic year, even if graduate students worked during the summer. Summer employees had to pay $298 for the three months of Keystone coverage.
A grievance was filed to the Office of Labor Relations by TUGSA in August 2004, which led to discussions between the union and the administration. The discussions proved fruitless and eventually the disagreement went to formal arbitration proceedings.
“Sometimes the administration and the union can sit down and come to some agreement, but in this case we couldn’t do that,” said Jennifer Murphy, a member of TUGSA on the contract negotiations team. “They just didn’t want to acknowledge that this was actually in our contract.”
In an e-mailed statement to The Temple News, Sharon Boyle, director of the Office of Labor Relations, wrote: “We are currently in negotiations regarding benefits and other issues. We hope to reach an agreement which is mutually beneficial.”
TUGSA has sent flyers to all of its members about the possible reimbursements they might receive. Murphy estimates there are “at least a few hundred people” eligible for awards that could be worth up to $894 – a significant amount for graduate students, who earn an average of $13,000 a year. But she added that the list might have errors on it and may have omitted some of those who are eligible.
According to a press release from TUGSA issued on Feb. 9: “Students and recent graduates who were employed as TAs [teaching assistants] and RAs [resident assistants] at any point during the last three summers, worked as TAs or RAs during the preceding calendar year, and paid for a full year of Keystone health insurance are eligible. The rebate amount is $149 for each summer session of such employment.”
Under the contract, graduate employees who worked for an academic year could choose between the Keystone plan for nine months of coverage or the CompSelect plan for 12 months of coverage. Murphy called the CompSelect plan “not very comprehensive.”
“We saw that the contract stated that they should be receiving the same benefits since they’re doing the same work as a TA in the summertime,” Murphy said.
Negotiations for a new contract are ongoing, and graduate employees are currently working under a contract that expired Feb. 15. TUGSA staff organizer April Logan declined to give details, but said the two parties are negotiating on a variety of issues, including office space, protection for family leave, recourse for excessive workload and, of course, health insurance.
“Year-round health coverage is not only good for our employees but will make Temple more competitive as a university,” Logan said.
If you think you may be eligible for a refund, contact TUGSA by calling (215) 253-0512 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Thompson can be reached at email@example.com.