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Florida graduate employees and SDS rally against student fees

By Fernando Figueroa |
August 17, 2011
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Jose Soto speaks on victories attained by GAU and the student fees campaign
Chief Steward Jose Soto speaks on the victories attained by the Graduate Assistants United (GAU) and the current campaign to eliminate student fees. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Gainesville, FL - The Graduate Assistants Union (GAU) and allies from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) rallied against student fees leveled upon graduate students at the University of Florida, Aug. 16. Volunteers began by leafleting and talking to teaching assistant employees about the importance of banding together and fighting for the union that provides them with healthcare and pay stipends. Many graduate students are surprised to learn that without the union, fees would go up every year like other campuses. Now the GAU union hopes to eliminate the fees, making graduate school more affordable for everyone. Most graduate student employees understand how poorly the administration treats them, despite teaching almost 50% of all undergraduate courses.

Halfway through the University's orientation for new teaching assistant employees, GAU Chief Steward Jose Soto and volunteers from SDS delivered an in-depth presentation about the importance of the GAU's current campaign – eliminating all student fees for graduate students and providing more accessible education. Hundreds of students and teaching assistant employees began chanting “No more fees!” in spite of university administrators sitting uncomfortably in the front row of the assembly room. “Workers at Wal-Mart and McDonald's don’t pay to work there, so why do employees at UF pay to work here?” Soto asked. During the next break period, many students signed up to be union members at the GAU table.

Then at a GAU lunch outside the assembly hall a spontaneous rally came together. The GAU’s Jose Soto delivered an empowering speech urging teaching assistant employees to fight for the elimination of student fees. Richard Blake, a member of Gainesville SDS, said, “It's great to rally with the graduate employees who teach our classes and educate people about the benefits that a union brings to their workplace.” SDS will continue to lead the fight for education rights, for accessible education and support the struggles of working people for better pay, benefits, and a good quality of life.

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