Last year, graduate student workers joined together to make George Washington University a better place for all of its employees. GW Grad Students United formed as a result of these efforts. Last spring, GW-GSU began our push for a formal contract with the university that would include a living wage, summer funding, transportation benefits, and a firm policy for leave time and grievance, among many other changes. This semester, we continue our efforts.
In speaking with other grad workers, we discovered that one of the most pressing matters for many was access to affordable and comprehensive healthcare. We heard from students in multiple departments who, despite working at the university, did not receive any subsidies for health insurance. Some students faced medical bills that even after insurance totaled thousands of dollars, sometimes costing them more than 25% of their annual income. We heard from others who have paid entirely out-of-pocket for necessary dental work or vision care. In all of these cases, the university’s health insurance makes our livelihoods more difficult and less certain. We will continue to organize around these experiences and demand that GW do better by its graduate employees.
In May, 2018, GW-GSU circulated a petition calling for free access to health insurance for graduate workers--a benefit offered by universities including Georgetown and New York University. While GWU did not meet these demands, the administration did make some changes as a result of our efforts, namely, offering a slightly higher subsidy for some of its graduate workers, applying these subsidies upfront, and adding the cost of the premium to the student bill, which allows for greater flexibility in payment. These are welcome reforms and a positive sign that the administration takes our concerns seriously. Most importantly, it is proof that our collective voice can force change at the highest levels of the university. Grad student workers are used to “making things work.” We put off large expenditures and make difficult financial decisions regarding our rent and groceries in order to make ends meet. Improving health insurance at GW would have a dramatic effect on our quality of life. Even compared to other universities who provide health insurance through Aetna, GW’s health insurance plan is prohibitively expensive and inflexible. It is no exaggeration to say that one medical emergency could make the difference between precarity and poverty.
We have the right to work for this university and pursue our scholarship without fearing what will happen if we get sick or suffer an injury. We will continue to use our collective voice to push for effective and commonsense changes to lower costs and improve access to healthcare through GWU. We hope you will stand with us.
In solidarity,GW Graduate Students United