Oregon’s universities should provide opportunities for stability through education and career preparedness for everyone in Oregon, yet many university employees are not being offered living wages or professional opportunities. One in six public university employees in Oregon are eligible for food stamps, and many more are falling behind the rising cost of living.
“I really enjoy where I work, what I do, and who I work with,” said Darrow Omar, who works in the Gender and Sexualiies Department at Portland State University. Omar has worked at PSU for two years, but is barely able to make ends meet. “I think that management’s proposals are really horrible. I support my Mom and the proposals that management are offering won’t put enough bread on the table. It is such a struggle right now with my current wage, I would really like to have a living wage.”
One of the benefits for working at the university is that many staff get a heavily discounted meal while at work – a common practice in food service and one that is incredibly important to low-wage workers. Instead of maintaining this benefit, management wants to triple the costs of meals on the job, a move that felt particularly harsh and won’t save a lot of money.
Meanwhile, these same administrators are paying themselves out-sized salaries. Right now the Presidents of the universities are paid on average more than $500,000 dollars per year – five times what Oregon’s Governor is paid – and often with additional perks like university gifted mansions, car stipends and first-class travel. The administrators even gave themselves a 3% raise this year, far more than what they are offering their employees.
“What’s hurting students and raising tuition costs is the greed of the administration,” says Tanner Thompson, a custodian at Oregon State University. “There shouldn’t be dozens of administrators making four $400,000 and $500,000 a year while the people who keep the universities running, keep the students safe, are making pennies on the dollar and qualifying for welfare programs.”
The universities were provided with an additional $100 million in State funding this year, enrollment is up, and operating revenues are up by 8.4%. The truth is that management has the money to do right by their employees, but they’re choosing not to.
What is happening in Oregon’s universities is a case of misplaced priorities. We’re seeing our higher education system treated more like a big business than a real part of our community. Where good jobs and affordable education was once valued, now all we see is dollar signs.
This is why the university employees are preparing to strike. Together, we are taking the power back. We will fight for affordable education and good jobs, even if our bosses won’t.