Everyone at the Teaching Assistants Union is excited and please to be working with you this year. Personally, I've enjoyed talking with all of you during department orientations.  As you know, we're entering a bargaining year.  It's only through the continued effort of all members that we'll be able to secure a FAIR contract, one that represents our value to the educational mission of Western.

I wanted to provide a quick update on a few issues that have cropped up in the past week or so.  Please don't hesitate to get in touch with one of us with any questions.
  • Tuition Remission:  Some of you have called with concerns regarding your tuition being paid for in a timely manner.  After talking with the Dean of the Graduate School, we're able to provide information, although not much help.  We've been told that the process of crediting your account is on-going and will take place for up to two weeks into the school year.  Keep in mind that our current contract does NOT waive the enrollment or other fees.  If you are still waiting for your tuition to be paid for after this time, please email Eric Denby at presidentTAUAFT@gmail.com.
  • Health Care:  In my opinion, our current "health care" option through the school is inadequate and expensive. This will be a bargaining issue. Some of us are able to take part in the Affordable Health Care Act and receive subsidies.  If you'd like to talk with an expert about the ACA, please visit the TAU table at the Graduate Student Fair this Wednesday from 3 pm to 6 pm.  Find out more about the graduate fair here.
  • Fractional Appointments:  I'll be sending a memo out in a week or so, but as a reminder, if you are on a fractional appointment, you should receive that fraction of the base minimum pay AND nine tuition credits.  For example, if you're a half-time appointment, you should receive 4.5 tuition credits paid for.  If you're not receiving the proper amount of tuition credits, please contact Kevin Wordelman at kevin@wmfce.org.
Finally, please join us on September 13 for our TAU Union Convention: Building a Stronger Union, Securing a FAIR Contract.  We'll be brainstorming what we want to see in our next contract.  The event is from 11 am to 3 pm at the Wesley Center and lunch will be provided.  Please RSVP to tauaft1729@gmail.com.As always, we're here for you and for each other.  Remember, we're only as strong as when we are together.

In Solidarity,
Eric Denby
President, Teaching Assistants Union


TAU has been made aware of a contract violation. This particular instance has to do with the way appointment letters were written. The letters are ambiguous and misleading regarding our compensation. At this time it is unclear if all of the letters are ambiguous and misleading but as we review each letter, it appears that this is the case.

More specifically the letters are ambiguous and misleading in paragraph three. The letter states (for a full appointment), “The total salary for the appointment period is $11,712 and a tuition award to cover 100% of your resident graduate tuition, up to 9 hours per semester that you are on appointment. The tuition award is applicable only toward registered and completed credit hours in your graduate program and will pay only actual tuition charges. (The tuition award will not pay for non-program, undergraduate, or Extended University Programs [off-campus or online] courses. Exception to this policy must be requested by the department to the Graduate College.) Payment of any remaining tuition expenses and fees is the responsibility of the student. If you are the recipient of other tuition support (employer-paid, veteran's benefits, foreign sponsorship, etc.), your University tuition award may be adjusted as a result”.

The letter should state, “All Graduate Assistants shall be granted a minimum of...9 credit hours of tuition remission during the 2014-15 fall/spring semesters, and a minimum of 3 credit hours of tuition remission during each of the summer I/ summer II sessions.” Our contract does NOT limit tuition awards to "resident" tuition, nor does it restrict access to "non-program undergraduate, or Extended University Programs."

It is unclear who benefits from the confusion, uncertainty, and stress that has resulted from the change in language from our contract in some, if not all, of our letters. To remedy this violation, we are asking that EVERY appointed graduate teaching assistant receive a joint memo from the Graduate College and the Director of Academic Collective Bargaining acknowledging that they have a right to up to 9 credit hours of tuition remission (or a prorated amount for fractional appointments) and that their residency in Michigan has NO impact upon their tuition award. TAU would also like to review and approve the language in this memo before it is sent to graduate teaching assistants.

In the meantime do not hesitate to sign up for undergraduate courses or be worried whether or not your appointment compensation credits will cover your classes as an out of state student – they do. Please share this with other teaching assistants, especially those who are new this year. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

Brandon Soderman,

Communications Officer

As many of you know, one of our top priorities this year is figuring out the best healthcare options for our members. One member recently advised us that because her WMU student health insurance plan (Aetna) is expiring this month, she was able to enroll in a new plan on the Affordable Care Act exchange (www.healthcare.gov). Even though the "open enrollment" period is closed until November, people who are losing coverage or whose plans are expiring, may be allowed to enroll now.

You can learn more here: https://www.healthcare.gov/how-can-i-get-coverage-outside-of-open-enrollment/

Because the complexities of health care are hard to generalize for our members, the Marvin Okun Insurance Agency has offered to help assist our members in navigating the Affordable Care Act and finding the right plan for you. We encourage you to contact them for a free consultation (they are paid by the insurance carriers if and when you enroll, and there is no cost to you or to TAU).  We invite you to contact them directly with questions or to request assistance. 

At no cost to you, they are able to:

  • assist you in signing up for healthcare.gov
  • explain the differences in plans offered
  • figure out if you qualify for coverage outside of the open enrollment period
  • help with filing any appeals to healthcare.gov on your behalf
  • assist with any issues that may arrise after your coverage starts

Additionally, TAU will be hosting sign-up/informational sessions this fall during ACA open enrollment times with representatives from Marvin Okun Insurance.

If you have immediate questions, or think you may qualify for ACA coverage, please visit www.healthcare.gov and contact Robert Williams at 269-349-9603 or rwilliams@okuninsurance.com

In the coming year, one of TAU's top priorities during negotiations is to fight for affordable health care.  In the past three years (since our last contract), the insurance offered and partially subsidized by Western has increased by almost $1000.  The increase in an individual's responsibility is even more egregious at almost $700.  You can view the data here.

Unfortunately for some of us, the student plan is the only one available.  Many of you should or will be receiving some sort of notification from the Graduate College detailing the 2014/2015 insurance plan.  You can view that letter here.  For those who elect to participate in the student plan, your annual premium will be $1800. This plan includes a $500 deductible, waived if using Sindecuse; $20 co-payments for visits at Sindecuse; 80% co-insurance outside of Sindecuse, but in-network.

You are required to pay $150 over twelve paychecks (six in the fall, six in the spring).  These payments are deducted from your paycheck automatically.

WE STRONGLY URGE YOU ALL to explore options through healthcare.gov.  The Affordable Care Act open enrollment period is from November 15, 2014, to February 15, 2015.  We are working on scheduling workshops, informational sessions, and assistance with signing up on healthcare.gov in the fall semester.  Keep on the lookout for more information.

PLEASE NOTE:  The Marvin Okun Agency is offering to help all of our members with their insurance questions, including signing you up for healthcare.gov.  This service is at no cost to you.  You may also qualify for an ACA plan to start sooner than during the enrollment period.  Please contact Robert Williams, Marvin Okun, at 269-349-9603 or rwilliams@okuninsurance.com.

IF YOU THINK YOU WILL QUALIFY for subsidies through the Affordable Care Act, I suggest you contact Cindy Clegg (Sindecuse) and verify your ability to pay for only the first-half of coverage, giving you the ability to opt-in to the healthcare exchange.  We have heard in the past this was possible, but you should check to be sure.

If you are as displeased with the limited options offered by WMU and the lack of a truly affordable health plan, then take action and join us at a member meeting or bargaining sessions.

Remember that we are only as strong as we are united.

In solidarity,
Eric Denby, President (presidenttauaft@gmail.com)

As part of the West Michigan Federation of College Educators, we represent roughly 1,500 teachers in the Kalamazoo area. To ensure that our elected officials share our values of support for higher education and support for collective bargaining rights, we sent questionnaires to several candidates for local elected office this year. We asked the following questions:

1) In 2001, Michigan appropriated roughly $6,700 per student to higher education, by 2012 that number dwindled to $3,600 per student. Michigan should return to 2001 funding levels as soon as possible, to ensure that every student in Michigan has access to affordable, high quality higher education with a wide variety of course offerings, small class sizes and well-qualified, well-compensated instructors. Do you agree or disagree?

2) All employees have the right to collectively bargain for wages, working conditions, health care and other benefits, including enhanced job security and equitable treatment for all higher education faculty, including part-time instructors and graduate teaching assistants. Do you agree or disagree?

3) The collective bargaining rights of any employee should not be abridged by local, state or national law, nor should anyone benefit from the provisions of a labor union contract without paying a fair share cost for the administration of that contract. Do you agree or disagree?

After reviewing the responses at an open meeting on June 5, our Political Education Committee made recommendations to the WMFCE executive board and two weeks ago we voted to endorse the following candidates:

State Senate (20th District):  Sean McCann
State Representative (60th District):  David Buskirk & Jon Hoadley (both endorsed by AFT-Michigan)
State Representative (61st District):  John Fisher
Kalamazoo County Commission (#1):  Vicki Devould Buchanan-Cohn
Kalamazoo County Commission (#2):  Kevin Wordelman
Kalamazoo County Commission (#3):  John Taylor
Kalamazoo County Commission (#11):  Jamie Jager

We hope if you live in any of the districts listed above that you will consider supporting these candidates. Thank you for your consideration and for your support.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at presidenttauaft@gmail.com.

Yours in solidarity,

Eric Denby
President, Teaching Assistants Union