Open Letter August 2023

This open letter was posted in August 2023, during mediation of our second GRU contract. 

Dear OHSU Community, 

We are Graduate Researchers United (GRU), the union representing OHSU PhD student workers, many of whom are working on research that you may have directly supported or funded. We are writing to let you know that OHSU grad student employees are visiting food banks. We are struggling to afford monthly medications. We cannot save for emergencies, monthly personal living costs, or even our children’s care. We get by from paycheck-to-paycheck, and if we are not in financial ruin, we are one unexpected major expense away from it. We need your help.

As you may know, GRU began bargaining our new contract with OHSU in June in the hope of addressing these issues together. While the past three months have been full of discussion, learning, and compromise, we have reached a major roadblock regarding any realistic movement from management in bargaining a living wage. Now, we are hoping you can alert  your funding partners, connect with us about next steps and solutions, and call on President Danny Jacobs and OHSU management  to recognize our reality and act.  

We are asking OHSU for a stipend of $40,000. We understand this number may sound high, especially compared to what we currently make – $35,000. But we did not pick $40K arbitrarily; we are scientists, after all. We collected data from other schools, published cost of living analyses, and surveyed our own members. We found that OHSU is behind other West Coast universities, which offer graduate workers higher wages AND also often other financial support for housing and childcare, which OHSU does not offer. We also found that a living wage for a single adult in Portland is between $44,883 (MIT Living Wage Calculator) and $48,341 (Economy Policy Institute), significantly more than we are asking for.

Our analysis also put hard numbers to a truth we’ve already mentioned: OHSU graduate researchers are struggling. Our average rent is $1,100 per month, and our monthly income after taxes is about $2,200. Any back-of-the-envelope calculation will tell you this is not sustainable. Even if you are a single adult with no car, no dependents, no debt, no medical expenses and no emergencies, a typical budget leaves you almost nothing left at the end of the month. If you have a family or loved ones to support – as many of us do – you are in the red every month. Students from diverse or underrepresented backgrounds are often even worse off, as they are less likely to have savings or financial safety nets to fall back on and in some instances may not even be legally permitted to take a second job. 

We have brought these stories  to OHSU leadership many times in bargaining. They are unmoved. OHSU leadership maintains that paying graduate researchers $40,000 would jeopardize the university’s research mission. There are less than 300 of us. We make up 1.5% of OHSU’s nearly 20,000 employees, and our stipends account for  0.0048% of OHSU’s personnel budget. We are less than a rounding error.  We understand that the pandemic has been hard on Oregon hospitals, but by its own numbers OHSU has the money. At the January Board of Directors meeting they announced OHSU’s net value is now $3.98 billion, a 10% increase since 2019. OHSU made $56 million in profit for the second half of 2022 alone. 

We did not become scientists for the money. We are here because we love what we do and that we get to support this community. We are producing cutting edge research for OHSU, and we believe in the research mission – in pushing the boundaries of what we know and improving medical science for all. But it is getting harder and harder to do this job and live.  If things do not substantially improve, we are concerned not just for our own futures, but for the future of scientific research at OHSU as a whole. 

OHSU leadership has made it clear that they are not listening to us, but we are hoping they will listen to you. You are our funders, our sponsors, our mentors and our leaders. Please communicate with them in any way that you are able. Our next mediation session is scheduled for August 15th. Now, you can support us by telling OHSU leadership and your funding partners that we worry there is a greater emergency of research in Oregon, and that without hearing us the greater community and science is at risk. 

Thank you as always,

Graduate Researchers United