Local Endorses Living Wage for Graduate Assistants

Old Main of the University of Arkansas

A News Release

The union for employees of the University of Arkansas has endorsed the graduate-assistant fight for a living wage of $20,000 per year.

“Our graduate students simply cannot afford to work for the wages the university is paying,” said Local 965 President Bret Schulte. “Many were working second jobs and relying on food pantries before the pandemic hit. Now, their second jobs are gone. The situation is desperate. Our grad students teach thousands of students each semester; they should be paid what they are worth to the university.

“The grad assistant current minimum wage at the Fayetteville campus is $12,500 per nine-month contract and $15,000 per 12-month contract.” Schulte is an associate professor of journalism.

Meeting online Jan. 21, the UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 unanimously approved the resolution, to be presented to the UA Faculty Senate for its consideration.

Update Wednesday, March 10, 2021 — The Faculty Senate approved the Graduate Student Stipend Resolution, as revised (PDF), at its regular meeting today.

Update Thursday, March 11, 2021 — The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the meeting at “Faculty Group Backs Pay Bump for Grad Students — But Vote Sets No Action at UA” with an alternate link that might avoid the subscription paywall.

Update Tuesday, May 4, 2021 — The U of A news services reports “University to Increase Graduate Assistant Minimum Stipends.”
About which Schulte wrote on Facebook: “After the UA agreed to a Living Wage for all employees, the Local 965 turned its attention toward fair pay for our graduate students, who are eating from food banks and suffering from the stress of living in poverty while they study and work. The pandemic made everything worse by shutting down many of their second jobs. We worked with grad students to lobby and protest for higher stipends. We wrote a resolution calling for $20K per year for all grad students campus wide that we shepherded through the UA Faculty Senate by a wide margin. Today, we can say we’re pleased that the U of A is raising stipends for our all teaching and research assistants. It’s not enough, but it’s a start. We’ll keep fighting. Many thanks to all the graduate students who worked for this, and thanks to Local 965 Vice-President Mike Pierce for his hard work writing the resolution we passed and presented to the Provost.”
And Pierce wrote on Facebook: “Really happy to see progress on Graduate Student stipends here at the University of Arkansas. The University is moving in the right direction, but more work needs to be done. $1,500 a month is not enough when the Graduate School’s own data shows that it costs at least $2,100 a month for a single person to live in Fayetteville.”

The document was drafted by 965 Vice President Mike Pierce, an associate professor of history.

Pierce’s resolution notes that the UA’s own graduate school estimates the cost of living in Fayetteville as far above the stipend level. According to the UA, the typical graduate student has monthly expenses of $1,895. The current monthly minimum pay calculates out to $1,250 for a 12-month contract and $1,389 for a nine-month contract.

“Even by the university’s own standards, our graduate students are not making enough money to live in Fayetteville,” Pierce said. 

According to research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, meanwhile, a single person working in Washington County needs $22,339.20 a year to live independently, that is without food assistance or other government programs. 

Pierce noted that a higher minimum wage also will attract higher quality graduate students, who in turn teach a number of undergraduate classes or assist in vital research.

Grad assistantships are defined as a half-time job of about 20 hours a week, of teaching or research, while the students are completing their degrees.

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