Graduate Students and Employees Protest NYU Healthcare Rollbacks

The protests are centered around changes made to their healthcare plans that they say were made without notification over the summer.

(Photo by Akiva Thalheim)

Members of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Technical Staff gathered outside Bobst Library on Thursday afternoon to protest rollbacks to their healthcare plans that they say were made without a mutual agreement.

GSOC and UCATS members led chants of “No consolidation without a consultation,” as the group held signs such as, “Healthcare, not wealthcare.”

UCATS President and NYU Law administrative aide Steve Rechner said NYU sent an email alerting UCATS members to changes in their healthcare plan around October, although the group had not been consulted on these changes since their meeting with NYU last December. The contract was signed in May 2018 and remains in effect until October of 2023.

One of the changes the protestors say NYU made to the contract over the summer essentially creates two deductibles, one for in-network expenses and one for out-of-network expenses, where both of these previously counted towards the same deductible.

“As hard as people will try to stay in-network, hospitals and healthcare providers have a long history of tricking people into out-of-network healthcare,” Rechner said. “For example, you go into a hospital, you go into the operating room, there’s a surgeon, an anesthesiologist, several nurses. One of those people may be out of network and you don’t know it. And suddenly you’re hit with another deductible. This is very challenging for our members on our low salaries to be able to afford this.”

UCATS Vice President and Bobst employee Christopher Crowe said, although UCATS’ and GSOC’s contracts differ, they stand in solidarity with one another.

“NYU has not only been messing with the healthcare rights of GSOC, which is in their contract, they were also doing the same thing with us, UCATS,” Crowe said. “A threat to one is a threat to all. We don’t want NYU to be able to unilaterally be able to change what’s in our contract in the middle of a contract.”

NYU nixed the Graduate Student Health Insurance Plan over the summer, saying the consolidation was necessary to “comply with the New York State Department of Financial Services regulatory oversight,” according to an FAQ sheet for student insurance plans on the university’s website.

Students previously insured under this plan, including members of GSOC, will now have the Comprehensive plan for 2018-2019 academic year. The sheet states that benefits under the 2018 to 2019 Comprehensive plan remain the same as those offered under the 2017 to 2018 GSHIP plan except at the Student Health Center.

According to GSOC union representative and GSAS doctoral student Bhumika Chauhan, GSOC filed a grievance with the university shortly after learning of the changes over the summer. In a subsequent hearing between GSOC members and NYU representatives, the university didn’t budge on the changes.

“NYU has decided that it’s not going to wait until 2020 [when GSOC’s contract expires] to renegotiate all of the benefits that we’ve had,” Chauhan said.

University spokesperson John Beckman called these claims “baseless,” citing a response by Interim Assistant Vice President of Employee Relations Gail Gibson that denied the grievance. In the letter — sent Aug. 15 — Gibson writes that GSHIP was never a condition of employment.

“[T]he student health insurance plans, plan details and benefits have never been a subject of bargaining nor are they covered by the collective bargaining agreement,” Gibson wrote. “In the case at bar, the university exercised its right as it does annually to review student health insurance benefit plans and costs.”

The changes to GSOC’s contract resulted in students facing $20 co-pays for seeing a specialist at the Student Health Center and increased costs of diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, and durable medical equipment, such as crutches.

The next stop for GSOC in their attempts to wrestle back the healthcare benefits stated on their contract is to have an arbitration with the university, which is scheduled for January.

“We’re pretty confident they will rule in our favor,” Chauhan said. “It is a condition of employment, it is covered in the contract and NYU cannot take this away without actually dealing with the unions and hearing us out.”

Email Sarah Jackson at [email protected].

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