Have you checked your Graduate Fellowship and Assistantship Form (GFAF) this semester? This is the form, known to most as your individual contract, that you sign at your department when you accept an assistantship. It lists your start date, end date, hours per week, hourly rate, signature of Grad Program Director, and so forth. If you no longer have your copy, you can get one from your department.
We’ve been finding a number of issues with GFAF’s this semester, including people whose contract period is less than they initially thought it would be, and people whose hours are lower than they expected. While these issues are not necessarily grievances under our contract, it is important to make sure you are able to do your job within the hours on your contract.
Fall semester assistantships run 19 weeks, from September 5, 2010 to January 15, 2011. Spring semester assistantships run 19 weeks, from January 16, 2011 to May 28, 2011. If your contract is for fewer weeks than 19, you may be in danger of not earning enough to qualify for fee and health insurance waivers.
Additionally, your contract should allow you to take your earned vacation time. The Graduate Assistantship Office provides a handy reference for how to calculate your vacation time in this quick reference. The GEO contract speaks to how you can schedule your vacation time (GEO Contract, Article 37; emphasis GEO’s):
Graduate student employees who are TAs and TOs shall take vacation time during Winter break or Spring break unless they reach an agreement with their department head that an alternative schedule would be acceptable. All other graduate student employees may take vacation at any time, provided they obtain prior written approval of the supervisor.
All vacation time shall be requested in advance and scheduled at the
discretion of the department head. These requests shall not be unreasonably denied.
If you are a TA or TO and your contract does not include Winter break, you need to speak with your department head about when you will be taking your vacation. We have been seeing these short contracts among people who are teaching at other colleges but receiving a UMass paycheck. If you are teaching at Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire, or Amherst Colleges, are receiving a UMass paycheck, and have a GFAF which lists your contract’s number of weeks as less than 19, please contact our grievance coordinator, Derek Doughty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Number of Hours
We have seen some departments trying to pay experienced Teaching Assistants and Teaching Associates less than new TA’s and TO’s. The rationale offered for this discrimination is that the department is creating an incentive for people to make adequate progress towards their degree.
The GEO contract does not agree with this rationalization, and this discrimination is grievable. If you have a contract for 14 hours where someone teaching the same course, with the same responsibilities, has a contract for 20 hours, you should contact our grievance coordinator, Derek Doughty at email@example.com. You should do the same if you are teaching the same course as a previous semester, but your contracted hours have dropped.