Money

After years of waiting, graduate and teaching assistants will soon see an increase in their wages and stipends. 

According to Associate Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School Jerry Weinberg, the increase was approved prior to the formation and certification of the teaching assistant union last December. 

Weinberg said approval for increases came in Spring 2018. Once Chancellor Randy Pembrook worked on the budget for the increases, it was approved the following summer. They were formally announced April 23. 

According to Weinberg, negotiations have yet to begin between the university and the union. 

“I advocate for graduate students and graduate programs, and I’m happy that we could work with the chancellor to find the funds to be able to provide that increase,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg said the funds are set aside by the university for specific purposes, like raise increases.

The last adjustment to graduate stipends had not been made since prior to 2010. Weinberg said he believes the cause is not only SIUE’s changing chancellors but also how the university prioritizes requests as higher education battles the state for funding. 

“Each chancellor has their budgeting priority, and, each year, I get to make recommendations. Sometimes those recommendations are high on the priority list, and sometimes they aren’t. It just really depends on what’s going on,” Weinberg said. 

According to Pembrook, the state budget can be unpredictable year to year, especially after the  2015-17 budget crisis. State funding and student enrollment play a large part in the university’s resources and ability to allocate fair compensation. 

“As we formulated what we would take to the board in the Fall of ‘18 — December ‘18, we built in a 3 percent, across the board, graduate tuition increase, and it was two-fold,” Pembrook said. “Part of it, the additional revenue...would go to increasing the stipends by 2 percent, and then the other part was to try to increase the visibility, marketing, advertising, recruiting around graduate programs, so the tuition increase was meant to accomplish two things: to make our stipends more competitive and to give our graduate programs more visibility.”

According to Pembrook, 2 percent has been the most common number for increasing funding and salaries over the last 10 years. The tuition proposals are reviewed in December and formally ratified in February. Salaries are then ratified in the summer, after what the state of Illinois is doing each year is decided. 

Pembrook said the recent raising of Illinois’ minimum wage raises questions on how pay will be distributed. The pay for certain positions is increased based on the individual’s qualifications, experience, performance or level of expertise for that particular job. 

“There are a number of student positions that were paid $8.25 that will go to $9.25 in ‘19-20 [due to the state minimum wage increase], but it would have been 2 to 3 years before the wave of minimum wage increases would have forced us to do what we voluntarily wanted to do this year,” Pembrook said. 

Biology graduate student and graduate union member Miles Gossett, of Godfrey, Illinois, said the increase is needed. However, he hopes they can come to what they see as a fairer amount during negotiations between the teaching assistant union and administration. 

Gossett said, other than an initial meet-and-greet, negotiations have yet to begin, so the pay increase is not a result of that.  The union currently covers all TAs. According to Gossett, there are approximately 300 TAs at the university, and the union has to legally cover and bargain for all of them. However, not all TAs have signed membership cards. 

“While the TAs are included in the union, the grad assistants are not, so if there are any grad assistants, GAs, out there who have not signed union approval cards, I would encourage them to do so so that they can join the TAs at the table,” Gossett said.

Meetings are scheduled every other week for official meetings. More informal meetings would occur on off-weeks. 

According to Gossett, the initial negotiations were a positive experience for him — one that allowed him to sit down and meet everyone and create a pleasant atmosphere. 

“I hope that [Pembrook] is agreeable to a fair contract for the graduate students here — that they work in good faith to help us all make the campus a better place for everyone,” Gossett said. 

Pembrook said the university is trying to do just that.

“We are trying to do everything we can to compensate people fairly given the resources that we have,” Pembrook said. 

Anyone interested in joining the union is encouraged to reach out to Spencer Hattemer at spencer.hattemer@seiu.org. 

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