PSU graduate assistants file for union recognition

At Portland State University, graduate student assitants posted union-themed selfies in a social media campaign in support of their union drive.
At Portland State University, Jenn Mora and her fellow graduate student assistants posted union-themed selfies in a social media campaign in support of their union drive.

Graduate student employees are about to have a union at Portland State University. On May 5, the recently-formed Graduate Employees Union (GEU) turned in authorization cards signed by a majority of the school’s 793 graduate student teaching, research, and administrative assistants to the Oregon Employment Relations Board. The state agency is expected to check the cards and certify the union in about three weeks, at which point grad student employees would begin getting ready to negotiate a first union contract with university administrators.

PSU would be the third public university in Oregon to have a graduate student employee union, after University of Oregon and Oregon State University. GEU is a joint project of the American Federation of Teachers and American Association of University Professors.

Union organizing committee member Andrés Oswill, a graduate research assistant in the urban studies department, said the union is likely to push for improvements to insurance, compensation, and workload. PSU graduate assistants typically work part-time in exchange for tuition remission and a stipend that amounts to $600 to $700 a month after taxes — far below what it takes to live in Portland. And they’re required to pay student fees and premiums for the student health insurance plan out of that.

“Even with a job on campus that’s paying my tuition, I still have to take out loans to live,” Oswill said.

Oswill said faculty supervisors and university administrators remained neutral toward the union effort during the three-month campaign, as mandated by a 2013 state law.

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