Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Mike D’Agostino (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT—A new four-year contract between the University of Connecticut and its 2,200 graduate assistants, which calls for 2 percent pay hike each year, squeaked through the House Thursday by a 73-71 vote.

But final passage of the contract is still uncertain.

Because it is a contract there is both a House and a Senate bill.

The Senate will need to remove the unfavorable action on the bill first before it waits three days to take up the underlying contract.

In the House, nearly all Democrats supported the bill; and nearly all Republicans opposed.

Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, a proponent of the bill, said it needed to be passed so “UConn could be competitive” in trying to attract graduate assistant candidates. He said it competes for these students with other public universities, such as the University of Massachusetts.

D’Agostino also tried to beat back charges that funds for the contract would be siphoned off the allocation the university gets from the state.

“This does not come out of the University’s allocation from the state,” D’Agostino insisted, a claim UConn officials also stated during a recent Appropriations Committee hearing on the contract.

Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, who voted against the contract, said those who valued the average graduate assistant annual salary at $20,000 weren’t factoring in the tuition waiver. “That’s over $40,000 a year,” Ziobron said.

UConn officials told Appropriations Committee members during a two-hour public hearing last week that the cost of the contract is $15 million higher than the pact that expires at the end of June.

The agreement covers four fiscal years for the period July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2022.

According to the fiscal note attached with the bill, total estimated costs associated with the agreement are $1.6 million in fiscal year 2019; $3.6 million in fiscal year 2020; $4.7 million in fiscal year 2021; and $5.7 million in fiscal year 2022.

UConn Interim Associate Vice President Lloyd Blanchard said during the Appropriations Committee public hearing on the contract that if there are further cuts to UConn in state funds is its his assumption is that it would be up to UConn to bear the brunt of the contract’s increase cost – stating that officials go into any contract negotiation with the notion that additional costs are part of the territory.

The new state budget adopted in October of last year includes nearly $143 million in cuts to the university in the budget year that started last July 1 and this year– not including another $21.4 million in cuts enacted last November to help balance this year’s state budget.

That figure was half, however, of what Gov. Dannel P. Malloy originally proposed cutting from UConn’s budget.

Graduate assistants are graduate students who provide teaching or research support to the University as part of their academic programs. They receive stipends and tuition waivers among other benefits as part of their work, which usually lasts for a period ranging from one semester to one academic year.

As with the previous agreement, the contract recognizes that academic matters involving GAs – including coursework, grading, assignments, and decisions regarding a student’s progress toward earning a degree – remain prerogatives of the university that are not governed by the contract.

In addition to the annual 2 percent annually for the next four years in the GAs’ stipends, the contract also calls for waiving an additional $100 of the General University Fee (GUF), bringing the total waived to $300 per semester.

Almost one-third of UConn’s 7,100 graduate students, or about 2,200, are covered by the contract terms.