A letter of support for over 1,000 graduate students affected by NYU’s decision to consolidate healthcare plans was presented to the Student Senators Council on Thursday.
The letter voiced support for NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee, a union for graduate workers that has been at odds with the university since the change was announced last summer. GSOC had filed a grievance in response to the consolidation of the Graduate Student Health Insurance Plan with the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan almost immediately after it was announced. The union claimed it was a breach of their 2015 contract that stipulated maintenance of their benefits until the expiry of the contract on Aug. 1, 2020.
NYU rejected the grievance and the next step in the process, arbitration, occurred on Jan. 16. During arbitration, a predetermined third party heard arguments from GSOC and the university. NYU claimed that health insurance is provided to graduate students even when they are not working as teaching or graduate assistants, so they qualify as students, not workers, which is not part of their contract. Currently, the case is still open.
Senators-at-Large Christopher VanDemark and Amber Eden expressed concern over the way the university handled communicating these changes — which resulted in higher co-pays and lower insurance coverage — with whom it would affect.
“The practice of concealing backroom discussions from those with the most at stake is not only poor governance, it is unjust and untenable,” the letter reads.
VanDemark and Caroline Bowman, a steward of GSOC, presented the letter to the members of the SSC, which was followed by a Q&A. Questions largely revolved around the nature of the ongoing arbitration process between NYU and GSOC, but the reasoning behind the writing of the letter was also a topic of discussion.
Law School Senator David Moosmann questioned why these new changes did not violate their 2015 contract with the university, which had established a set of baseline benefits for workers and a maintenance of benefits clause that would prohibit the university from lowering benefits after the contract was signed.
“The argument being made was that the healthcare coverage was attached to our status as students not our status as workers,” VanDemark said.
Senator-at-Large Victor Markhoff questioned the decision to leave out NYU’s claim that the decision was made in response to a requirement of the New York State Department of Financial Services, which WSN discovered was false.
“My mission from the start was not to get too entangled in the logistics of the arbitration process,” VanDemark said.
Alternate Senator-at-Large Benjamin Zinevich Rodriguez voiced concerns over the possibility that the university lied to students when explaining the consolidation of their healthcare plans. VanDemark responded by saying that they need more information.
“This is a fluid situation with these new revelations coming from the WSN article,” VanDemark said. “If they do end up being true this might be something we have to revisit down the line because that would be a pretty serious breach on the part of the university if they did, in fact, misrepresent the truth,”
The Student Senators Council will vote regarding support of the letter at their next meeting on Feb. 21.
Email Jesse Jimenez at [email protected].