Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Ohio University’s Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) will hold a picket outside of the University’s Board of Trustees meeting at Walter Hall to demand that OU raise its dismally low subsidies for graduate employee health insurance. Recognizing that an injury to one is an injury to all, GEO encourages all students and community members to join the group on Friday as they struggle for better working class living standards in our town.
OU subsidizes only 4 percent of its graduate employees health insurance costs, leaving many students to pay approximately $1,000 each year for health care. This represents a huge expense, particularly as OU provides a minimum stipend of only $7,200 to graduate students. Compared to the University’s peer institutions, the health insurance subsidies it offers to graduate students are abysmal – many of OU’s peer institutions cover 100 percent of their students’ health care costs, with an average subsidy among peer institutions of 89 percent.
That’s why GEO launched #BeAverageOU, a campaign demanding that the university simply be average by subsidizing 89 percent of graduate employee health insurance costs. GEO took their campaign to the Graduate Student Senate, which recently passed a resolution supporting their demand. However, ignoring the democratically expressed will of its students, the university remains noncommittal. This raises the question of what graduate employees can do to make themselves heard. A recent strike among West Virginia teachers shows the way forward.
On Feb. 22, rank and file teachers – mainly women – communicated largely through social media to shut down every school in the state, demanding that the Republican-controlled legislature provide them better pay (West Virginia teachers are among the most poorly paid teachers in the nation) and more funding for public employee health insurance. On March 6, after nine work-days on strike, the state legislature capitulated to the teachers demand for better pay, signing onto a 5 percent pay raise, and the governor agreed to create a commission to look into funding opportunities for the state’s public employee health insurance program.
OU’s graduate employees are struggling around the same issues of pay and health insurance, and although it is illegal for graduate employees to unionize, the model of collective struggle is tried and true regardless. The West Virginia teachers could not have won against their deeply conservative state government without taking direct action and forcing a response. Likewise, graduate employees cannot win against an administration that has repeatedly demonstrated a greater interest in its own revenues than the interests of its students unless they take direct action.
That’s why GEO is picketing the Board of Trustees this Friday. Just as better funding for West Virginia’s state health insurance program would benefit all public sector workers, a victory for GEO would mean a higher standard for working class people in our community. That’s why it’s crucial that all students – both undergraduate and graduate – and all community members, show up to support GEO’s struggle, and join the ongoing legacy of the West Virginia teacher’s strike.
Daniel Kington is a senior studying English at Ohio University. Kington is a former 'Post' columnist.