Wages & Benefits
Graduate Student Workers, including TAs, RAs, and ALs, play an essential role in the teaching and research missions of USC. We teach classes, grade papers, perform experiments, write research papers, mentor students, and more. Despite our success contributing to USC we remain in a financially precarious situation. Easing the financial burden of USC GSWs will improve our ability to live in Los Angeles, improve the quality of our work, and make USC more competitive with its peer institutions.
Reasonable wages that take into account the cost of living in Los Angeles are essential for USC to be accessible to anyone with the talent and dedication to pursue graduate studies. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, a single working adult needs to make $46,197 a year to achieve a living wage in Los Angeles.
Following successful union contract negotiations at Columbia, Harvard, and NYU, as well as students at MIT voting to unionize, there has been a wave of substantial wage increases at private, top-tier research Universities. At USC, we are already benefiting from this when, after years of stagnant wages, USC announced wage increases in most departments. By unionizing, we will be joining a growing movement of student workers fighting to increase wages in higher ed – and be able to ensure that wage increases continue in the future through contract negotiations with USC administration.
“Our labor is crucial to the teaching and research mission of USC, but as of now, our wages are too low to cover the cost of living in LA, meaning we often have to take second and third jobs to pay for rent. The USC administration says it values diversity, but by refusing to pay us a living wage, they make the university inaccessible for people without means. A union would allow us to negotiate for better pay and make the university a more equitable place.”
– Yoni Hirshberg, Cinema and Media Studies
“During the COVID-19 Pandemic, hundreds of thousands of individuals lost their jobs, including my spouse. Unfortunately, I did not have the ability to add him to my health insurance at USC, placing us in a precarious position of paying more than $600/month for COBRA, or forgoing his health insurance. Other universities offer the possibility of adding dependents on to healthcare plans for a small monthly fee, and it is time for USC to meet that standard.”
– Ellen Herschel, Pyschology
USC’s Keck Medicine is one of the major healthcare providers for the LA area, yet as student workers we lack adequate health benefits. Our healthcare is insufficient to meet the needs of students with chronic conditions or disabilities and, combined with low wages, we find ourselves one major healthcare need or billing mixup away from financial disaster. Additionally, our dental plan is a low-cost PPO “table of allowance plan” that leaves us covering the costs of many dental procedures.
Grad student workers with dependents (children or spouses without their own insurance plans) are simply out of luck – USC does not offer dependent health insurance. With a union, we can negotiate for increased support for student families, including dependent health care, paid parental leave, childcare support, and more.
Grad Student Workers deserve affordable, safe, and secure housing. Unfortunately USC fails to provide this and GSWs face high levels of rent burden, whether renting from USC or from other landlords. There is currently no rent control for USC student housing and USC unilaterally decides rental rates and conditions.
Student workers across Southern California are fighting for more affordable rents, both through negotiating with University administrators and through political advocacy. Through unionizing, we will be able to negotiate for better housing access at USC and work with other unionized academic employees to alleviate rent burden.
“Managing the cost of living in this area with our salary has been one of the hardest obstacles for me and my peers, especially for those of us who are first generation students pursuing higher education. Our budgets are tight, and they’re made tighter by low salaries, and excessive student fees. Forming a union is the best way for us as student workers to have a voice and create the power needed to advocate and negotiate for necessary change.”