Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Supported by

Higher Education, Lower Wages

A faceless man raises a pencil in the air triumphantly
Ryan Vellinga

Nevada’s graduate assistants are blowing the whistle about exploitative pay, so why did Governor Lombardo just veto a bill that would’ve improved it?

“It’s really strange,” says Carlos Tkacz about Governor Joe Lombardo’s recent veto of AB224, a bill that would have granted employees of state institutions the right to collectively bargain.

Tkacz, a UNLV graduate student, is president of the Nevada Graduate Student Workers, a group that has been organizing in support of the bill. Although students at state universities are employed by the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), Tkacz says their “classification is intentionally vague. … Being an employee is really useful when it comes to working overtime,” he says. “But when it comes to asking for benefits and unionizing, we’re students.”

Despite intermittent increases in the past decade (the most recent being in 2018), UNLV masters students are reportedly paid only about $11,250 per program year, while doctoral students receive up to $20,750 during the same time frame. Adding insult to injury, the process for addressing wage grievances requires students to complain to the same instructors who determine their access to classes.

Sponsor Message

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but his letter vetoing the bill cites the existing ability of NSHE’s Board of Regents to collectively bargain, adding that AB224 would “undermine” the “management dynamics” of the Board.

Now organizers are hoping to work directly with UNLV’s administration and the public to negotiate for better pay and working conditions.

“The reason all of us are doing what we do is because we believe in the project of education, and what it does for society,” Tkacz says. “I believe in people.”