Angela Canton got her masters degree from Portland State University in
2006, and she hasn’t left campus since. For the last 18 years she has worked
for the University – first for the Black Studies program, and more recently
for the Dean’s Office as a program assistant. She coordinates the hiring of
thousands of graduate student faculty and trains other departments on hiring
After 18 years she has reached the top of the salary scale and earns $45,552
per year before taxes and out-of-pocket healthcare costs. She says she is
better off than a lot of her colleagues, but still struggles to get by – relying
on scholarships for her son’s sports and after school programs or having
to choose between an unexpected expense and putting off a bill for a few
“I can’t remember the last time I got a meaningful raise,” Angela said.
Despite a strong economy, university management has offered scant pay
increases over the last several years. Many workers like Angela have fallen
behind the rising cost of living, particularly in Portland.
“I’ve learned how to budget my money,” she said. “I’m a Portland native, so I
have my mom. I have friends. I have a village. But I shouldn’t have to rely on
my community to get by. After 18 years, I should be making enough to be self
Over the last few years a strong economy and increased funding from the
State have put university budgets in a good situation. Management has
invested in new buildings and even gave themselves a 3% raise this year.
However, their offers to front-line staff like Angela are very different.
“It’s pretty bad,” Angela said of management’s latest offer. “I work with fi-
nances. I see the executive salaries that come through. They don’t necessarily
deserve the wage they’re getting. And they’re telling us we have to settle for
At her salary, the 1.75% cost of living increase offered in the contract next
year would amount to around $70 per month – not enough to change An-
gela’s circumstances in any real way.
“When we talk about a strike, it’s a hard conversation,” Angela said. “My son
told me he was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to buy groceries if I’m not get-
ting paid. That’s real. But I‘m ready. Administration needs to see our worth.
They need to see what we really do and if it takes a strike to show them, that’s
what we’ll do.”
“In my mind, I’m here for the students,” she continued. “I’m here to make their
lives better, so they don’t just have a relationship with the parking lot and the
classroom. They are our future leaders. I think they will take care of us in the
future. And what they need is for management to respect the front-line staff
who are taking care of students today.”