PSU grad student faculty ratify their first-ever union contract


Volunteer members of the union bargaining team were in high spirits March 2 after 18 months of negotiations produced a tentative deal for graduate teaching and research assistants at PSU. From left: Julia Dancis, Neal Kuperman, Lyndsie Compton, and Ted Cooper. (Photo by Andrew Gorry, courtesy of AFT-Oregon)

By Don McIntosh

Graduate teaching and research assistants at Portland State University (PSU) approved their first-ever union contract March 9. The three-year deal covers about 800 workers and is the culmination of a joint campaign by American Federation of Teachers (AFT)-Oregon and American Association of University Professors. It doubles minimum work hours to 12 a week and provides a $184 signing bonus and annual inflation-based raises of 1.5 to 3.5 percent.

Currently, the median stipend for a PSU graduate assistant is $1,150 a month — before mandatory student fees (about $460 a term) and health insurance ($875 per term).

Starting next academic year, the agreement commits the university to pay a share of the student fees, starting at 45 percent, rising to 80 percent in Fall 2020.

Teaching and research assistants receive at least some tuition remission; the new contract sets a minimum of 9 credits.

“We’re excited,” said bargaining team member Neal Kuperman, a graduate teaching assistant in physics. “We also understand that this is not a one time deal.”

Kuperman said grad assistants can’t afford to live in Portland on what they’re making, yet the university can’t function without them.

“We are a foundational pillar of the university. Without grad assistants it would be nearly impossible to teach all the courses required or do the research needed.”

MORE: Find out more about the Graduate Employees Union of Portland State University here.


  1. Congrats to the PSU grads, The work they and the dependency of PSU to rely of this grad students to deliver such is vital for PSU to continue graduate skilled academic professionals. Value and Respect finally being recognized to them. In solidarity, Jaime R.


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