Archive for Friday, March 14, 2014

Discussions on limiting KU grad student work hours prompts alarm

March 14, 2014


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Kansas University graduate students are sounding alarms over a proposal within the university that could cut back how many hours they can work on campus.

The university has said the possibility has been brought up as part of ongoing, and still early, discussions within university administration about how to adapt to health care reform.

The students are worried specifically about an email that surfaced with what appears to be a proposed policy to limit the total number of hours students can work on campus to 20 hours per week, down from the current cutoff for many students of 30.

For some, that would represent a sizable hit to their incomes, already low for many graduate teaching and research assistants. To convince administration to keep the current rules intact, some graduate students have drawn up petitions and started a campus-wide campaign.

Adapting to health care reform

KU Provost Jeffrey Vitter declined an interview request on the subject. KU spokesman Gavin Young said KU administration and human resources have been discussing how KU will respond to the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate to provide health insurance for all employees working 30 hours a week or more.

Young had few specific details to provide. He said the university is still determining how the 30-hour-a-week definition of full-time employment in the health care law will apply to graduate assistants, and what the cost of insuring graduate student workers would be. KU is also waiting on guidance from the state insurance program.

"I think the whole conversation is very premature," Young said.

KU is not alone among universities trying to figure out how to adapt to health care reform. According to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the federal government has not specifically addressed how graduate teaching and research assistants fit into the law.

The University of Alabama has already moved to limit graduate assistant hours to 20 per week to avoid paying for insurance under the health care law — a fact that has fueled concern at KU.

'We really firmly oppose this policy'

In 2013, KU employed about 1,100 teaching assistants and 640 research assistants, according to the KU public affairs office.

For students with those assistantships, most work 20 hours per week under the terms of the appointment. At an average pay of between $15,000 and $16,000 for a nine-month appointment, the assistantships don't provide enough income for many students.

Meredith Wiggins, a graduate student in English, works as a teaching assistant in her department and puts in extra hours at the journalism school's Bremner Editing Center.

"A number of us have second jobs on campus that go beyond" the assistantship, Wiggins said. "A lot of us rely on that money to make ends meet."

Wiggins has helped draft the student petition to block any added limit of hours.

"We really firmly oppose this policy," she said.

English doctoral student Jennifer Colatosti is in a similar position to Wiggins. She is a teaching assistant and also works as a consultant at the KU Writing Center. Under a 20-hour limit, she would have to quit her job at the Writing Center, which would be "effectively cutting out $400 of my monthly budget," she said. "And that's significant."

Other graduate students cobble together hourly jobs, which means they don't have the benefit of a tuition waiver that comes with an assistantship. They too might have to quit their second jobs if new limits were in place.

In that boat is Pantaleon Florez III, who has also been active in organizing the petition drive. Florez, a master's student in the School of Education, works as the graduate affairs director for the Student Senate and also tutors through KU Athletics for an extra 10 hours a week.

Florez said last year he beat the poverty line by about $580.

"Taking the 10-hour position away from me would put me literally below the poverty line," he said.


Miranda Cruz 4 years, 2 months ago

If only they had put the same effort into firmly opposing the reelection of Obama as opposing this potential policy change they wouldn't be facing a potential hour cut back and loss of income.

Pantaleon Florez 4 years, 2 months ago

I know many people who look at the situation like you and I would invite you to take a second look from a different perspective.

The notion that Obama is the one putting our healthcare at risk is ludicrous. The ACA is brilliant. It sends a message to large-scale employers that they need to be taking care of their own people. If a large-scale employer decides to operate using shady business tactics by cutting people's hours to cut costs (and much needed health insurance), then that is on them (i.e. NOT on President Obama).

If large-scale employers make these kinds of moves, then they have outed themselves as unsympathetic and downright uncaring to their workers; the ones who generate their revenue. Employers should feel responsible and accountable for their employees. They should be helping the people who make their businesses run. Furthermore, employee benefit healthcare is not a handout, so let us not even go there. It's something hard working Americans earn and should be able to access.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

It's the medical insurance industry creating the problems of cost. Reverting back to what prevailed before Obamacare would not stop the annual double digit increases in medical insurance cost. And previous to ObamaCare was the most expensive and discriminating insurance coverage in the world.

How best to address the problem?

Improved Medicare Single Payer Insurance for All is one substantial part of the solution. At a cost of about $3k-$4k annually for a familiy of four.

Single-Payer (HR 676 and S 703) Expanded Medicare for All Vs. Proposed Healthcare “Private insurance with Public Option” ( very interesting findings)

Improved Medicare Single Payer Insurance for All is one substantial part of the solution.

Single Payer Highlights - Easy to Implement: Medicare has been in existence since 1966, it provides healthcare to those 65 and older, and satisfaction levels are high. The structure is already in place and can be easily expanded to cover everyone.

  • Simple: One entity – established by the government – would handle billing and payment at a cost significantly lower than private insurance companies. Private insurance companies spend about 31% of every healthcare dollar on administration. Medicare now spends about 3%.

  • Real Choice: An expanded and improved Medicare for All would provide personal choice of doctors and other healthcare providers. While financing would be public, providers would remain private. As with Medicare, you choose your doctor, your hospital, and other healthcare providers.

  • State and Local Tax Relief: Medicare for All would assume the costs of healthcare delivery, thus relieving the states and local governments of the cost of healthcare, including Medicaid, and as a result reduce State and local tax burdens.

  • Expanded coverage: Would cover all medically necessary healthcare services – no more rationing by private insurance companies. There would be no limits on coverage, no co-pays or deductibles, and services would include not only primary and specialized care but also prescription drugs, dental, vision, mental health services, and long-term care.

  • Everyone In, Nobody Out: Everyone would be eligible and covered. No longer would doctors ask what insurance you have before they treat you.

  • No More Overpriced Private Health Insurance: Medicare for All would eliminate the need for private health insurance companies who put profit before healthcare, unfairly limit choice, restrict who gets coverage, and force people into bankruptcy.

  • Lower Costs: Most people will pay significantly less for healthcare. Savings will be achieved in reduced administrative costs and in negotiated prices for prescription drugs.

--- Physicians for a National Health Program .

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