Since we’re allowing the OSU Admin team some time to read over the contract language we suggested on Friday, we’re focusing our conversation again on salary.

We know that it can be tough making ends meet as a graduate employee.  It can be even harder to do that when the cost of living in Corvallis is only getting higher while wages stay low.  Deciding to go to graduate school can be a hard decision to make, regardless of your family situation.  According to the OSU Admin team, accessibility of graduate education is a priority for them, too.  So we should be on the same page when it comes to a living wage, right?

Well… maybe not so much.  They still have a bottom line to protect, after all.

One Admin member was curious how we could apply a poverty benchmark normally used for full-time work (such as the federal poverty rate) to a part-time employee.  They didn’t seem certain we could make one to one comparisons.  I’m not saying this isn’t a complicated topic, but when graduate employees can’t hold another job, can’t use government assistance programs designed for low-income workers, and can’t pay their bills on the low wages they earn, how else can we look at the situation?

After a brief caucus, we started discussing ways to help the lowest earning graduate employees.  We have a few ideas, one of which is to address low FTE.  By raising the minimum FTE slowly over time, rather than the minimum salary rate, we help the lowest-earning, most vulnerable graduate employees. It also maintains a level of compensation that’s affordable at the departmental level.

Our work is far from over on the topic of providing graduate employees with a living wage.  We need to generate a strategy with the OSU Admin team.  We need to set appropriate benchmarks, and we need to make sure we can enforce any changes we agree on.

We took one last caucus to regroup before shifting the conversation to cost of living adjustments (COLAs). This was on the suggestion of the OSU Admin team, who seemed keen to change the subject. For those of us who haven’t been at OSU that long, the COLA was written into the contract during the 2014 bargaining cycle. The first COLA-related salary increase just happened this past fall quarter (September 2015).

Despite being agreed upon by both teams, the idea of a COLA seemed to sit uneasily with some on the Admin side. They suggested a salary cap, which means that once a graduate student earns a certain amount, no COLA would be applied.  We don’t think any graduate employees earn so much that they’re not affected by changes in housing markets; increasing costs hurt us all.  The COLA helps maintain buying power over the course of a graduate employees’ stay at OSU, and helps offset increases to housing, food, or other costs that inflate over time.

Unfortunately, the solutions won’t come overnight, so we’ll be talking about this in much more detail in the coming sessions.  Join us again on Friday, March 4th, where we’ll revisit healthcare and continue the salary conversation. Come support your bargaining team!

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