UofM grad workers call for health insurance and living wage

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – In a letter sent to the University of Memphis administration, graduate workers with the United Campus Workers (UCW) have made demands for health insurance and a living wage.

The demands include a health insurance plan for grad workers that covers essential benefits defined in the Affordable Care Act and pays for at least 80% of covered medical expenses.

The letter also calls for a $15 minimum wage for all grad workers, and funding for grad worker health insurance that does not lead to cuts in graduate stipends.

According to UCW, the University of Memphis does not currently guarantee health insurance for grad workers.

UCW’s Graduate Worker Organizing Committee (GWOC) has been calling for the university to secure full health insurance coverage for all grad workers on campus for the past three years.

However, UCW says the university has refused to commit, even after securing R1 classification as a top-tier research university.

In June, UCW started a petition demanding better working conditions, including fair staffing, better equipment and allowing workers to return to their previous shifts after being moved to nights.

In the infancy of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCW also called on administrators to ensure the safety of all those involved on college/university campuses.

Although grad workers can opt-in for some healthcare services through Church Health Center’s MEMPHIS Plan, this plan is not insurance, UCW says:

“U of M’s website describes it as ‘a healthcare ministry… comprised of volunteer physicians and donated medical services,’ and as of spring 2019, only 49 grad students had opted in to the plan.”

Earlier this summer, UCW says it received word that the University was considering an “emergency fund” for expenses not covered by the MEMPHIS Plan.

However, union members argue that an emergency fund “would only provide the bare minimum, not the long term or preventative coverage that other University of Memphis employees already enjoy.”

“The University of Memphis continues to be on the lowest possible end of graduate stipends, while graduate students continue to navigate the high cost of healthcare on our own,” the GWOC writes. “It is unacceptable that a University claiming status as a world-class research institution is unable to meet this basic need for its researchers and teaching assistants.”

“We will continue to take our fight to new graduate students on campus, undergraduates who are considering graduate school, the broader UofM community, the media, and anyone else who will hear us,” GWOC said in a statement.

The letter UCW sent to university administration is attached:

Action News 5 reached out to the university for comment, but no response has been given.

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