Last Friday’s session was the first with Dave Blake leading the OSU team. We started the session by recapping the issues we’ve discussed so far: fees (both academic year and summer) and Ecampus tuition & fees. We reiterated our commitment to getting through all of our financial interests by the end of the May 8th session, but requested that they come to the following session on May 22nd with a substantive response to these interests. Putting all of our financial interests on the table is supposed to enable them to begin costing financial packages and start having conversations with Deans about potential changes to graduate employment. Here are the interests we covered this week:
A Liveable Minimum Salary
According to OSU’s own financial aid department, the cost of living in Corvallis for nine months is $15,4801. Over nine months, a graduate employee at the minimum salary rate will earn between $6212-$15219. Meaning that, depending on FTE, graduate employees at the minimum salary will fall $29-$1030/month short of OSU’s own estimate of the cost of living in Corvallis. For a graduate employee working at the minimum salary rate and the average 0.40 FTE appointment, they will fall $338/month short of the cost of living every month, requiring a 25% raise to reach a living wage. This is just to get the average FTE up to a living wage, not even the minimum FTE (where folks are making only half as much). These numbers of course presume no family, no saving, and no safety net. We are looking for contract language that substantially increases the minimum salary rate to close the pay gap so that all OSU graduate employees make a living wage. This has to be done in conjunction with increasing FTEs.
Not much. But most of the OSU team seemed to acknowledge that many grads work well below a living wage. Howard (HR) pushed us a little on how the living costs were calculated (by OSU, you’ll recall), including asking if it assumed shared housing (yes!) and a partner to help out (nope, we don’t all have a partner or parent who can subsidize our poverty wages).
Salaries that Reflect the Rising Cost of Living
Many graduate employees receive no salary adjustment during their tenure working at OSU. This means for a PhD student who came to OSU in 2009, her salary is worth only 88%2 of what it was when she arrived. These de facto pay cuts hurt grads who need a salary that keeps up with the cost of living. Across the board cost of living raises will maintain salary rates for all grad employees and help combat wage inversion issues, where new grad employees are coming in at higher salary rates than existing grad employees receive.
OSU is unfamiliar with the wage inversion issue, which we let them know is a relatively restricted problem. OSU thinks most people get raises at some point in the career at OSU, so it doesn’t seem like as big of an issue to them. They’re going to look into where people don’t receive raises over at least 3 years by looking back at old salary data.
Salaries Commensurate with Experience
Graduate employees, like any employee, increase in work abilities and skills during their time spent as GTAs and GRAs. It only makes sense that graduate employees should receive pay which reflects these increases in experience. In no other field would an employee be expected to work 5-7 years without the expectation of a raise.
We pointed to model contract language at the University of Oregon and Michigan State University, among others, where three classes of graduate employees exist with different minimum pay rates. Commonly there’s a raise after your first year, after qualifying exams, and after candidacy. We aren’t tied to a specific model, but we like the idea of these step raises. We would want to do this in a way that worked with cost of living adjustments.
That language at comparator institutions like MSU is a useful starting place. They seemed pretty open to this system of raises, particularly because some departments (like EECS) already give these sort of raises. They like something that’s merit based.
Minimum FTE for Graduate Employees Teaching Their Own Classes
Many of the departments who routinely appoint people at the minimum salary rate and minimum FTEs (0.2-0.25) are those departments where graduate employees teach their own classes. These departments are assigning FTEs that are inadequate for the job assignment. We need to establish a reasonable minimum FTE for graduate employees teaching their own classes.
Example language comes from the GTFF (grad employee union at the UO) where teaching a 3 credit class is a minimum 0.40 FTE and teaching a 4-5 credit class is a minimum 0.49 FTE. Expecting people to teach undergraduate courses in 8 hours/week is detrimental to the quality of education at OSU and also underpays hardworking GTAs. It says a lot about OSU’s commitment to teaching that for the same course, a UO GTA would be paid to work twice the hours as an OSU GTA. We recognize that an immediate increase to 0.40 FTE may not be reasonable, but we want to work with OSU to establish a reasonable minimum. These minimum FTEs, in conjunction with a raise to the minimum salary, would begin to close the pay gap.
Recent workload grievances have made them aware of this issue. They see some complications from issues of experience and efficiency, but there seems to be some general agreement that 8 hours/week to teach your own class is unreasonable. They sort of hypothetically throw around a 0.3 FTE number, but want to talk to the colleges and schools where this is an issue first.
Overall, we thought OSU was relatively receptive to our interests, but we really did most of the talking. We’ll know where they really stand on these issues when they come to the May 22nd session with a response.
More on Minimum FTE (witnesses)
Child Care Stipends
Health Insurance Costs
Partner & Dependent Tuition/Fee Benefits