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UCWGA protests with and supports UGA graduate assistants and graduate students

Decorated signs, loud cheers and honking cars surrounded the Arch on the University of Georgia campus on the evening of Sept. 7 in response to the university health insurance price increase.

Graduate students and their spouses, professors and United Campus Workers of Georgia union members rallied against the increase in health insurance premiums for dependents of graduate students on UGA’s health insurance plan.

Health insurance premiums for dependents of graduate students and assistants increased for the 2018-2019 year by more than three times the 2017 rate.

“There have been steps to remedy it, but it should just be lower. The university should take on more of the burden. We already don’t get paid enough, and then we also have to pay for pretty expensive healthcare,” said Rachelle Berry, a second-year geography graduate student from California.

The insurance rate hike was not unique to UGA. It was implemented at all universities by the University System of Georgia.

Along with the crowd chanting, “Healthcare is a human right," "UGA no rate strike,” signs grabbed onlookers’ attention. A few of the signs read “Well-being is a right, not a privilege” and “The race to the bottom may not end well.”

Crowd members told personal experiences of how the rise in healthcare has affected them and others they know.

Jacob Weger, a seventh-year anthropology graduate student from Oregon, attended the rally in support of his colleagues who he said are suffering.

“I have one colleague in my department, whose wife suddenly is stuck in a catch-22, where she can’t even sign up for the affordable care act because it stipulates that technically she has access to insurance through a spouse, but it’s basically with double their premiums for the year,” Weger said. 

Cindy Hahamovitch, a professor in the history department, attended a forum on Aug. 23 in which officials from USG came to talk to the graduate students who were upset about the health insurance hike for dependents of graduate students.

A week after the forum, USG lowered the rates for dependents from $7,629 to $5,645 —still more than $3,000 higher compared to the $2,258 price for the 2017-2018 year. 

“I think they thought they were doing the right thing by minimizing the damages. I like to think they thought they were doing the right thing, but I don’t think they understand how a university works and how dependent we all are on each other,” Hahamovitch said.