We told UO’s Board of Trustees: GEs deserve dignity

On September 12, 2023, GTFF VP External Relations Emily Beatty addressed the UO Board of Trustees about our ongoing contract negotiations. Read our statement below, and watch video of the meeting here.

We at the GTFF wanted to address the Board of Trustees to highlight our current platform as we negotiate a new contract with the University. We believe there is a distinct lack of basic respect and dignity that is afforded to graduate employees at this university, which is degrading the UO’s reputation as a top research and public university. 

GEs at UO are critically underpaid, undervalued, and overworked. According to the MIT cost of living calculator, the cost of living in Eugene has increased dramatically since our last contract negotiation in 2019. So far, UO has offered a 4% increase in pay for the lowest paid graduate students and a 2% raise for everyone else. This roughly translates to an extra $60 a month, failing to address the massive difference in pay versus cost of living. At this moment, every single graduate employee at UO makes less than a living wage.

Using information from the Department of Education and the American Association of Universities, Ben Mannix, a current physics GE, investigated where we stand among our peers. The results were clear: UO GEs are some of the lowest paid in the country. 

And for GEs, UO is not only our workplace, it is our school. Our working conditions are our learning conditions. When we struggle to make ends meet, we struggle to succeed academically. 

The problems listed above are having a distinct, palpable effect on the UO’s graduate student community and reputation as a competitive graduate school. While graduate program enrollment across the US has increased by 9% since 2010 (National Center for Education Statistics), graduate enrollment at the UO has decreased by 4% in that same time period (UO Registrar’s office). 

The lack of a competitive salary to study at our university pushes potential graduate students and researchers to other schools, schools that invest in students’ wellbeing in exchange for their dedication to valuable research. 

In addition, undergraduate enrollment at UO has hit record high enrollment over the last three academic years. GEs are the foundation of undergraduate studies at UO, where they lead a vast majority of labs and discussion sections, as well as leading a substantial number of full courses. As class sizes rapidly grow, and while GEs remain overworked and underpaid, what kind of education can these undergraduate students expect to receive?

The GTFF is currently bargaining for an increase in wages to bring the UO to a competitive, and livable, salary to address each of these issues, alongside demands for more equitable workplace treatment. The raises we have asked for would be just sufficient enough to meet the rising cost of living, and the workplace protections we desire would make the UO a safe academic environment available to students across the world. This should be a top priority given the alarming results of UO’s climate survey from 2022. 

The GTFF wants to make this university a place GEs want to be—a place where our contributions to the University’s functions are reflected in our pay and our treatment as workers. GEs who are treated with dignity will do better jobs and add to the value and prestige of our university.

In summary, we believe that the current bargaining cycle represents a pressing opportunity for this university. The UO must address the stagnation of GE wages and the accessibility of our workplace conditions, otherwise it admits to a blatant discounting of the value of GE labor. Our union, the GTFF, believes that GEs deserve dignity, and we hope you do too.