Seasonal pay discrepancy alleged for graduate student instructors

JAMIE CHEN / AGGIE

“Equal Pay for Equal Work” petition calls to eliminate seasonal pay discrepancy

Duane Wright, a graduate student instructor in the Department of Sociology, has alleged that there is a “serious problem” with graduate student assistant instructors (AIs) receiving lower pay during summer sessions than they would for teaching courses during the normal academic year.

According to Wright, summer AIs receive two-thirds of the payment that regular session instructors receive. In response, he created the “Equal Pay for Equal Work” petition which demands equal compensation year-round.

Wright believes that since the summer sessions are equivalent to a normal academic year class with regard to courseloads, fees and academic units, graduate student teachers should also receive equalized pay.

Claire Doan, the director of media relations at the UC Office of the President, dismissed Wright’s petition, claiming it was an improper action to take.

“UAW leaders agreed to the summer compensation rates as part of the four-year contract they reached with UC in August,” Doan wrote. “The proper forum for addressing this issue was and is at the bargaining table.”

Wright, however, said a pay formula exists to determine salaries. Because graduate student instructors were not aware such a formula existed, they were not able to bring the pay disparity up during negotiations.

Doan clarified the pay formula, saying the explicit parameters for determining summer compensation rates was clearly outlined in the recent contract.

The compensation rate for teaching assistants, fellows, graduate student instructors or associate ins who have a 50 percent appointment during summer session is “the rate resulting from dividing the academic term gross salary by the maximum workload of 220 hours (quarter) or 340 hours (semester) and multiplying the result by 120 hours (for a six-week summer session),” Doan wrote via email.

“This compensation rate shall apply proportionately to other percent appointments and/or to summer sessions of different lengths,” Doan wrote. “ASEs and groups of ASEs who are currently paid at a rate greater than this in summer 2007 shall continue to be paid on that basis (plus any additional wage increases that ASEs in the unit received in the previous academic year).”

Wright, however, alleges there was an omission of the formula in the contract, making it so administrators are unclear about this stipulation to summer pay, making it harder to uncover and fix.

“That formula cannot be found in the contract, so no one reading the contract would even know that people get paid less in the summer,” Wright said. “I can personally attest to this because I was on the team that negotiated the contract in 2013-2014 and I had no idea AIs were paid less over the summer, and I never heard my colleagues speak of it — the entire time we were discussing in depth each article of the contract. It wasn’t until years later, this recent summer, when I was hired as a summer instructor that I discovered this practice.”

Wright is unsure whether this is a UC-wide or UC Davis-specific situation.

Furthermore, Wright questioned UCOP telling workers to wait till contracts expire, in four years, for any pay increase. According to wright, fairness in payment towards graduate student workers should be a higher priority.

“I think it says a lot about the executives at UCOP that when an issue of fairness comes up like this their response is to say to not address it until this contract is expired in four years,” Wright said. “I won’t be here then. I want fair pay now. And you know all those executives making six figure salaries at UCOP aren’t making 2/3rds pay over the summer either! Graduate students are struggling, especially student parents like myself.”

 

Wright accused the UC administration of continuously under-valuing graduate instructors that teach at the university. Graduate students who are already struggling to pay for rent and food need to make the same as their fall, winter and spring quarter counterparts, he said.

“Graduate students make very little money, yet without their labor the university would cease to function,” Wright said. “When you consider that without summer employment we make about $20k per year, that is not much to live on and certainly isn’t a living wage for those of us with children or dependents. By not getting equal pay for equal work over the summer it really hurts us.”

Another issue for Wright is that summer session AIs often don’t have teaching assistants for courses that would otherwise have assistants during the regular school year, leading to additional work for these instructors.

In the petition description, Wright emphasized that the principle of “Equal Pay for Equal Work” is common sense, and what he sees as an undervaluing of instructors by the university.

“We demand that UC Davis recognize the amount of work that graduate student summer session instructors put into these courses, and that UC Davis compensate them as such — by paying them the amount they make for teaching the same course during the normal academic year,”  Wright wrote in the petition. “We believe that this is is about the principle of ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ — which is about fairness and justice.”

 

Ellie White, a graduate student in the Center for Watershed Sciences, commented on the situation via email, and said that if these instructors knew they were being compensated at a lower rate than during the regular school year, they would “be outraged.”

“Why should my labor be valued differently from one season to the next?” White said. “Do chancellors, vice chancellors, and provosts get paid any less? No.”

The petition is currently circling through several affected groups.

“As of right now, the petition has over 100 signatures and it is just getting started because the Davis unit of the UC Student Worker Union UAW 2865, which represents AIs as well as TAs, readers and undergraduate tutors, just endorsed the petition and will be sending it out to all its members at Davis,” Wright wrote. “I expect it to get an even bigger circulation and many more signatures by next week.”

 

Written by: Aaron Liss — campus@theaggie.org