USF grad assistants fear COVID-19 could trigger job losses

University of South Florida. Credit:

With negotiations moving forward for graduate assistants at the University of South Florida, students are worried they may lose their jobs because of potential budget cuts triggered by a global pandemic.

If COVID-19 budget cuts occur and cause terminations, graduate assistants want the university to provide letters reflecting that information, for unemployment insurance purposes.

“We want to be able to take our letter to the unemployment office to get immediate relief,” said Sam Badger, vice president of USF’s Graduate Assistants United.

The union and the USF administration discussed bargaining issues during a conference call on Thursday.

Students addressed the potential unemployment concerns, along with many other COVID-19 related issues during the bargaining session, part of the negotiation process that covers pay, benefits and other issues.

The union had provided a memo on unemployment issues and other concerns to USF lawyer John Dickinson and the University’s Board of Trustees, outlining several ways for USF to support grad assistants during the public health crisis.

But USF officials said that they must prove the pandemic was the reason for a job loss. “If there is no evidence suggesting that it is due to COVID-19,” then GAs won’t be eligible for the state’s unemployment compensation, a board member pointed out.

Other recommendations from the union’s memo include additional paid leave time for students who are infected with the respiratory disease or are providing care for a person who has the coronavirus.

“Graduate Assistants who contract COVID-19, or who are caring for a person who has contracted COVID-19, will have an additional 10 days of paid leave with a note from a medical professional indicating a confirmed or suspected case of the disease. Use of paid leave due to COVID-19 shall not reduce the amount of paid leave available for other forms of illness/injury, and vice versa,” the GAU union proposed.

In a previous Florida Phoenix story, the union had been trying to reach an agreement for several months on better pay and a variety of other benefits. The next bargaining date is May 22, according to the union.

Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.