- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Graduate workers at the University of Missouri’s flagship campus in Columbia are moving closer to unionizing.

Organizers of a non-university-affiliated student group called the Forum on Graduate Rights have voted to affiliate the prospective union with the Missouri National Education Association and the National Education Association, The Columbia Daily Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1OM5R6W ).

The workers, whose union would be called the Coalition of Graduate Workers, have been demanding better pay, a long-term insurance solution and full tuition waivers for all graduate assistants.

Graduate students Connor Lewis and Eric Scott are leading a committee that has been gauging interest in the potential union since August. The group shared its plans to pursue unionization during a Wednesday forum.

Scott and Lewis said they were optimistic they could gather the roughly 2,000 signatures necessary to hold a vote this year, and have a contract in place by 2016. Lewis said similar conversations about graduate student worker benefits are happening at colleges and universities across the country.

“We’re part of a bigger movement,” he said. “We’re at a pivotal moment within graduate education in this country.”

The Forum on Graduate Rights formed after MU gave graduate assistants 24-hour notice that they would no longer receive health insurance subsidies because of an IRS interpretation of the Affordable Care Act. The university later rescinded that decision, but the process sparked a campus-wide discussion about graduate student employee benefits. Graduate students with assistantships conduct research for the university and teach undergraduate classes.

Backers of the prospective union have started recording videos of graduate students sharing their stories. The videos will be part of a campaign that will feature graduate students discussing the positive and negative aspects of working at MU.

Ronnie LaCombe, a graduate student and MU committee member of the Forum on Graduate Rights, said she would like to see the university focus on rebuilding trust with students.

“I don’t trust the university anymore,” LaCombe said. After receiving the health insurance email in August “my total perspective of the university changed,” she said.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

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