GTA union supporters rallied to urge KU officials to include health insurance in their new contract.
Estevan Harrera offered physical evidence Thursday of the financial pain he endures because Kansas University doesn't provide health insurance benefits to graduate teaching assistants.
Uninsured, Harrera broke his left arm recently and piled up more than $3,000 in medical bills. His annual GTA stipend for teaching Spanish at KU is $8,000.
"I procrastinated long enough!" he proclaimed at a rally sponsored by Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition, the union representing GTAs at KU.
Harrera joined GTAC on the spot. With his healthy arm, he waved a union card at 100 union supporters outside Wescoe Hall. Perhaps the $8 per month in GTAC dues will help the union acquire health insurance for GTAs, he said.
GTAC is negotiating with KU administrators on the first union contract for teaching assistants at the university. GTAs voted in 1995 to form a collective bargaining unit, but have yet to strike a labor deal with KU.
"We just want to send a message to KU that GTAC is not going to go away," said rally organizer Laura Senio.
GTAC representatives said a survey indicated that obtaining health insurance benefits was the top priority of graduate teaching assistants. Union leaders are also interested in increasing GTA stipends.
"We have a right to basic benefits like health care and basic cost-of-living increases," sociology GTA Marc Horowitz said at the rally.
Graduate teaching assistants teach an estimated 25 percent of the courses at the university, he said.
However, salaries and benefits for GTAs at other Midwest universities are superior.
For example, GTAs at the University of Wisconsin are paid $13,000 annually and have health insurance as an employee benefit. GTAs at KU make an average of $7,900 a year and are left to pay for insurance policies on their own.
"It goes without saying that everyone working should have health insurance," Cheryl Lester, KU associate professor of English and American studies, told union supporters.
KU undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for a private, individual health insurance policy that costs $815 annually.
University officials had no comment on the rally or union negotiations.