OSU Announces Plans to Cut Cost of Living Adjustment for Graduate Employees

In a bargaining session with the Coalition of Graduate Employees on May 13, Oregon State University announced its plans to cut their Cost of Living Adjustment entirely. COLA provides an increase in benefits to graduate employees which counteracts inflation.   

OSU also rejected CGE’s childcare, housing, grievances, insurance, and training proposals, which have been elaborated on in our prior coverage. Negotiations between the university and coalition have been underway since October of 2019.   

“CGE’s proposed contract language includes support for affordable housing, childcare, a hardship fund, and a cost of living adjustment increase to 6%,” says OSU undergraduate and Contract Action Team Member Tali Ilkovitch. “Graduate workers currently receive a 2% increase, which ensures that their wages keep up with local inflation, meaning a loss of COLA is essentially a pay cut.”  

As a labor union, CGE represents over 1,800 graduate teaching and research assistants at OSU. Since March, negotiations have shifted to an online platform, due to Gov. Kate Brown’s executive stay at home order. While sessions are not open to the public, the CGE posts detailed reviews of each on their blog. Their next session is scheduled for Wednesday, March 20 from 2-4:30 p.m.  

CGE Responds   

Graduate employee and union member Alicia Ward comments, “OSU claims this is necessary due to potential budget deficits caused by COVID-19, however none of the upper administration has yet taken a pay cut, and Ed Ray still makes more than 16 times the median household income of Corvallis.”  

Similarly, Graduate employee Eli Matej Anderson stresses, “I already pay over half of my income in rent every month. A colleague of mine pays nearly their entire income every month in rent. These numbers don’t even include other basic necessities, like Internet, electricity, food, car insurance, gas, and childcare.”  

Ilkovitch says she’s been attending negotiations for the past several months. “At these bargaining sessions, I have heard testimonies that are beyond unsettling. Mothers who struggle to house and feed their children, [and] workers who live in their vehicles or can’t visit sick or dying family members were among the hundreds of OSU graduate employees who came to testify. Yet the university’s response to these testimonies is a pay cut during a global crisis.”  

“In addition to their mistreatment of graduate employees,” Ilkovitch continues, “OSU wants to get rid of the on-campus pharmacy, rescinding essential health services that many students rely on, and has yet to provide hazard pay for housing and dining/research employees who keep the university running on the front-lines.”  

Several requests for comment from OSU Vice-President of Marketing and Communications Steve Clark remained unanswered.

UPDATE, 2:26 PM, MAY 20, 2020:

Subsequent to this story’s publication, and after our announced deadline, we received this quote from Vice President of University Relations and Marketing Steve Clark:

“Oregon State University and the Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) continue to engage in bargaining negotiations for a contract for the future. The university did present a proposal to the CGE that did not offer a guaranteed percentage increase for future salaries given the current budget uncertainties that OSU faces as a result of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These conversations and the messages we have shared with CGE’s bargaining team are consistent with the messages that President Ed Ray and Provost Ed Feser have sent to all university employees and students over the past month. We recognize the need to be transparent while also responsibly managing the significant budget commitments that the university has and constraints it may face going forward due to the pandemic. Our proposal to CGE also expressed our willingness to return to the bargaining table once the financial situation faced by the university has improved. We have offered this commitment because we want to make clear OSU continues to have a strong commitment to its graduate assistants.”

By Stevie Beisswanger