Daily Egyptian

Graduate assistants and civil service employees file formal complaint for not receiving pay raises

By Amelia Blakely, Campus Editor

Graduate Assistants United and Association of Civil-service Employees union members said in a press conference Thursday SIU is not fulfilling the contractual agreement to give their lowest paid employees a two percent pay raise.

The GAU and ACsE filed the complaint against the university to the Illinois Education Association on April 16.

Sam Smucker, Mass Communications Steward for GAU said in the two unions’ contracts there is a ‘me too’ clause says when non-union represented employees on campus receive a pay raise, so should union-represented employees.

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“We now know the university has given raises to people at the medical school, that counts in terms of non-union employees,” Smucker said. “They need to follow through on the promise they made to us.”

The Board of Trustees approved the pay raise for the School of Medicine on Feb. 8 at the Board of Trustees meeting in Edwardsville, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Ami Ruffing, a chemist for the center of environmental health and safety and president of ACsE said their employees are the lowest paid full-time employees on campus – some being on food stamps.

“It’s bad. We just got a minimum wage of $10.50 a hour,” Ruffing said. “Even in southern Illinois you know that’s not really a living wage because you could work at Wal-Mart on more money than that.”

Civil-service employees’ minimum wage was set approximately three months ago Ruffing said.

Anna Wilcoxen, a graduate student in Communication Studies said in the press conference financial realities of graduate assistants at the university, citing author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich.

“Ehernreich asserted when the people at the top offer work that will pay less than you can live on, that is a form of violence,” Wilcoxen said. “It is a violence that manifests with finding out you have serious illness and not being able to seek treatment for it. It manifests in working so many hours and sleeping so few that you destroy your body and mind. It manifests in the bruises in your arms from donating plasma every few weeks.”

Wilcoxen said she brings home $985 in her monthly salary being a graduate assistant.

A two percent raise for graduate assistants would equal to an additional $250 increase in their yearly wages, approximately a $25 increase in their monthly wages.

Wilcoxen said $250 is equal to half a month’s rent for a cheap apartment in Carbondale.

“Yes, I have had jobs where it has been lower and I did not have access to loans,” Wilcoxen said. “But forcing gratitude because it could be worse only allows the system to perpetuate.”

If graduate assistants are valued by making the university work, then a two percent pay raise should be an easy choice to make, Wilcoxen said.

The unions’ contracts were negotiated during Governor Rauner’s budget impasse in 2014, according to the GAU and ACsE press release.

“We started negotiating in 2014. At that time we didn’t have a state budget,” Ruffing said. “We finally just said, well we’ll sign a contract for four years with no raises.”

In those contracts, which are about to expire, the administration suggested the unions put the ‘me too’ clause in the contract, Ruffing said.

According to the ‘me too’ clause if the state passed a full year’s budget, and the university received state funding and gave non-represented employees a pay raise, then union-represented employees would receive the same.

“We’ve gone almost five years without a raise,” Ruffing said. “Two percent is not a lot, but it’s better than nothing.”

Smucker said the unions have filed grievances and may have to go to arbitration to settle the disagreement between the university and the unions.

“We think we can skip that process by the university simply following through on their commitment,” Smucker said. “If we go to arbitration we are going to waste thousands of dollars.”

Campus editor Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely.

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