Press "Enter" to skip to content

Why is President Scholz lowballing our grad students?

This message from the faculty union uses GTFF data to show how miserly the Administration’s final offer is, and goes on to explain what you can legally do to support your grad students / GE’s if it comes to a strike. Read to the end for info on free beer:

Why are our grads thinking about striking?
In the last year graduate students around the country have gone on strike, resulting in significant wage increases, among other wins. These wins, together with an inflationary economy and increasing support for unions from the public, have not only driven graduate unions towards more strident labor actions, but have also reset expectations around compensation and benefits for graduate employees nationwide—check out the GTFF’s masterful analysis of grad wages at peer institutions.

 Examples from other institutions:

At Rutgers, striking graduate workers won raises, bringing their salary up from around $30,000 in the first year to $40,000 in the fourth year of their contract. [new contract highlights at Rutgers]Grads in the University of California system will see 10 percent increases in the first year of the contract, with 6.4 percent increases in each subsequent year, with higher salary floors for graduate students in particularly expensive housing markets. [new contract highlights for the UC system]At the University of Michigan, striking grads won an 8 percent raise in the first year of the contract, a 6 percent raise in the second year and another 6 percent raise in the third year for graduate student instructors and staff assistants at the university’s Ann Arbor campus. [new contract highlights at the University of Michigan]At Temple University, after striking, graduate students won increases to salary floors which are equivalent to a 23.1 percent increase in the first year. By the end, in 2026, grad workers will make about 30 percent more overall, moving them from $19,500 to $27,000. [new contract highlights at Temple University]

The UO administration’s last proposal on salaries during bargaining was for across-the-board raises of 3.5, 2.75, and 2.5 percent over the three years of the contract, with increases to the minimum salaries of 8, 3.75, and 3.5 percent. It’s not clear that across-the-board raises of this size would even cover the inflation of the coming three years of the contract, much less do anything to address the buying power lost over 2+ years of the highest inflation in the U.S. of the last four decades.

The GTFF thinks they may be forced to go on strike to get closer to what their members need/their comparators earn. You can see the status of the GTFF’s current bargaining proposals here.

Why should faculty support a GTFF strike?

Prospective graduate students understand the economic situation, and their decisions are influenced by salaries at peer institutions. Quite simply, if we want our graduate programs to be competitive, the university needs to provide competitive salary and benefits.Solidarity is important. Faculty workers are stronger when we stand together with our union cousins across campus. Low wages impact the ability of the institution to meet its mission, and if we want to maintain our status as a world-class research university, the administration needs to find a way to compensate campus workers accordingly.Inflation has impacted real salaries of faculty, too. Economic wins for the GTFF translate to higher salaries for members of our union.In the last year faculty at several institutions, including Rutgers, likewise went on strike and won significant salary increases. Something to think about. If you are interested in helping build momentum around our upcoming negotiations, get involved by becoming a steward for your unit, joining the Contract Action Team, or setting up a listening session for your unit.

What can I say if my department is asking me to replace GE labor or create a contingency plan?

As detailed in this previous communication from late August, Article 41 of the CBA states that faculty may be assigned to perform work previously performed by a striking employee, it also affirms that any additional work would be treated and compensated as an overload assignment. Any and all overload assignments (detailed in Section 6 of Article 17 of the CBA) are voluntary and to be taken up only at the discretion and agreement of the faculty member. No bargaining unit member may be disciplined or terminated for refusing an overload assignment.This means you can’t be required to do GE work, but you may be required to “consult”.Some faculty may find that making contingency plans is an unreasonable amount of work that doesn’t fit into their already busy work schedule. Faculty may choose to show their solidarity by creating contingency plans that illustrate the true value of GE labor, with all the effort that would be required to replace the work they do, including training replacement employees and so on. Consider what it would take to replicate the knowledge GEs have of students, course content, etc.

It is of course a deeply held value of faculty that we work to serve our students and to contribute through our research projects; no one wants those to suffer. In the event of a GTFF labor action, we maintain that it is reasonable to see the potential harm to student learning as a choice being made by the administration, not faculty or the GTFF. Serve your students and do your research to the best of your ability within the limits of your FTE and normally assigned duties; let the administration see the value GEs provide to our students and our labs in vivid relief as it becomes clear that their work is not easily replaceable. If this causes you a lot of stress or anger, join us in pushing for the administration to offer the GTFF a better contract before a labor action might come to pass.

We will continue to update our FAQ on a potential GTFF strike, but if you have specific questions please reach out to your department steward or [email protected].

General Membership Meeting

Our first General Membership Meeting of the academic year is tonight, Thursday, October 26, from 5:00-7:00pm at Gratitude Brewing! Business will begin at 5:30pm.This meeting, both social and business, will be an exciting opportunity to share your thoughts and vision for the upcoming round of bargaining with your colleagues on the Bargaining Team. The next round of bargaining will begin in early 2024!Food and beverages will be provided. Although this is a private event for United Academics, partners and kids are welcome to join!


  1. honest Uncle Gangsta 10/27/2023

    Faculty I know are getting kinda fed up with the “GE’s.” The chart above doesn ‘t include benefits, does it?

    • UO Matters Post author | 10/28/2023

      Faculty I know are more than fed up with the Administration. Good Q about the benefits though – surely JH has hired consultants to compile this and posted the results somewhere?

      • honest Uncle Gangsta 10/29/2023

        Well, I’ve said plenty here that shows I’m fed up with the Administration, too. And I believe UO needs to offer a competitive “compensation” package to GE’s. (Same goes for faculty, but of course, UO lags far behind on that, and has no intention of ever changing things). I just insist that the cost of the benefits be included in the accounting of what the grad students are getting. Does UO have this data? I sure hope so. Whether it’s publicly available, I don’t know. It’s rarely or never framed this way.

  2. GE looking at transferring away 10/27/2023

    Gangsta: UO is resting on its laurels when it comes to benefits. Health care for GEs is good. But other universities are catching up to UO quickly. It’s no longer the case that Healthcare is a major point of differentiation in recruitment, although it remains a secondary factor. Also, who cares about great healthcare when you don’t earn enough to pay rent and buy healthy groceries. Never-mind creature comforts like Netflix or bonding with others over coffee outings.
    The GTFF kinda pisses me off to. But this unlivable pay irks me even more.

  3. honest Uncle Gangsta 10/28/2023

    The benefits cost money and need to be included in any honest comparison. It is true that the inflation is hurting. So are the many things that Oregon has done to drive up the cost of living, especially housing. Personally, I would not strike over wage issues. It is just screwing the students. And damaging the “brand” in ways that are hard to repair. It also pisses off faculty members whose jobs are made far more difficult. Maybe graduate education will move toward the nonunionized South, much like the auto industry.

  4. GE 10/28/2023

    Gangsta: I’m curious, how much do you make? I’ve skipped meals and gone hungry during my time at UO. That’s not okay, nor is moutains of debt. It’s true, the GTFF is full of obnoxious lefty activists that are insufferable. But any irritation from faculty over wages betrays how totally out of touch they are with their own grad students, especially those that don’t come from wealth. You can’t live on this salary. So I don’t know what these faculty want. Familial support until someone is in their 30s, when they graduate with a PhD? Taking on more student debt? The kicker is that the same faculty living in a warped bubble about the financial realities of modern day grads are often same faculty that quietly complain about how coddled and fragile students are. No introspection whatsoever about how much easier it was 20+ years ago when they got their degrees. (And it wasn’t easy then, either, but it was certainly easier than now.)

    • UO Matters Post author | 10/28/2023

      It was *way* easier back then. In 1991-5 at Wisconsin I got free family health care with a $5 co-pay (albeit no massages), ridiculously cheap family housing and day care, a stipend that was enough to survive on with 2 kids and a mostly non-working spouse, and $2500 for a smokin 386 PC with 1MB of RAM. I didn’t have to take on any student debt until my last year, and I could save most of that for a house down-payment here. 1.5% interest for 20 years, so in real terms I borrowed $12K and paid back ~$8k. But setting aside the intergenerational inequities, UO needs to pay the going rate if we want to attract good grad students. Without them we can’t do good research, and we can’t get or keep good faculty. I’m baffled by President Scholz’s intransigence on this.

      • real scientist 10/29/2023

        I can verify the last part of this at least. Every potential hire meets with our grad students checks them out on our lab pages and asks us questions about how good they are.

    • honest Uncle Gangsta 10/28/2023

      GE: As far as I can tell, the pay in my department is pretty comparable to what I was getting as a grad student, in a big city, long ago (adjusted for inflation, of course). And yeah, I had some scanty meals. And times when I had to skimp on other things. I am in a department where the pay is higher than the minimum. I get it about it being hard to make it on the lower amount. But if you want to compare data, make an honest comparison. Include benefits. Don’t pretend that they don’t cost money. A buck is a buck. It’s called “total compensation.” And I’ll repeat, don’t fuck over the undergrads and the faculty with a strike. If it’s really that bad, you owe it to yourself to find something better for yourself. Somebody told me something similar long ago. And they were right. But at UO, my understanding is they actually paid the strikers for their time off after it was over. Some strike! One last thing: you said it well with “It’s true, the GTFF is full of obnoxious lefty activists that are insufferable.” Yeah. They’re not helping you.

      • UO Matters Post author | 10/28/2023

        If threatening not to work unless you get higher pay is leftist, then Rob Mullens, Dan Altman, and whoever the Duck’s latest football coach is must be fucking communists. If it comes to a strike I’d say the administration will bear at least as much responsibility for undergrads not getting the education they paid for as the GE’s will – and I’m guessing most of their parents will say the same. (BTW making strikers whole is a pretty typical strategy for public sector employers who want to end a strike.)

      • IT's Classified 10/29/2023

        “If you want a better job, leave” may work for some, but then you leave a fucked-up situation for those who come after you. If rather, you make your job better, you can afford to eat, and those after you might be able to survive too.

        • Let’s Be Real 11/09/2023

          IT’s Classified – exactly. You nailed it. “If it’s fucked up just leave” is the classic bullshit response made by wage oppressors and worker abusers. People “In Charge” making that admonishment are the same people “In Charge” that find creative ways to pad their own income.

  5. GE Supporter 10/30/2023

    Most conservative and reactionary gangsta I’ve ever heard. There is no way in hell that what you received in benefits and what you paid in living costs was anywhere near what it is today, adjusted for inflation or not.

  6. CSN 10/30/2023

    One of the challenges with benefits comparisons is that the packages are not equivalent, nor is the cost of health care in different locations. So spending on health care here is different than spending on health care in, say, Ann Arbor.

    My gestalt is that the health care package offered to GEs here *is* generous, but also that the expense is not too over the top. It would not come close to filling the gap in that figure. If I were advising the GTFF (and I am not), I would recommend that they take a small cut in benefits in exchange for large increases in wages.

    If anything, the problem with health care at UO is that the rest of the employees are on PEBB, which is one of the more expensive public sector health insurance plans on a per-employee basis.

  7. Powerball 11/01/2023

    I wonder about the headline — when is a new leader fully responsible for the actions of the organization? If Scholz started on July 1, we probably wouldn’t say he was lowballing grad students for an offer made on July 2. And I think I agree with you that Scholz has at least nominal control over the process *now*. But what signifies that transition? Is there a moment where someone presents the state of bargaining to him and he says “yeah, stay the course?”

    • uomatters 11/01/2023

      Yes, I’m taking the charitable view, ie that he cares enough about the academic side of the university to make sure something this important is handled the way he thinks it should be, 4 months into the job.

  8. Lots more going on 11/09/2023

    The contract negotiations for GE’s is absolutely important. However, I’m not seeing anything here about the contract negotiations with SEIU for classified employees nor the union organizing by the student workers. Anyone in the know about these negotiations willing to post?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *