Student employees must represent themselves

Departments not formally required to give feedback

About 2,800 students are employed at Portland State—in research labs, at Millar Library and in dozens of classrooms and student-run organizations across campus.

Departments not formally required to give feedback

About 2,800 students are employed at Portland State—in research labs, at Millar Library and in dozens of classrooms and student-run organizations across campus.

Despite their numbers, student employees are not represented by a union in the same way as “classified,” or faculty, employees at PSU.

Students can’t collectively bargain for better pay or improved working conditions the way union workers can. Student workers and graduate assistants can, however, find resources through the PSU Student Employment Steering Committee, a group that advocates for student employees by providing training, creating recognition and developing guiding policy.

The committee is made up of PSU administrators and student employees and is responsible for an upcoming Student Employee Handbook, Employee of the Year awards, and for creating policy recommendations.

The handbook will be a new online resource assembling many of the tips that are currently scattered around PSU Career Center materials, such as resume and cover letter writing and tips for when a student is on the job. The aim is to centralize information.

“PSU could not function without the great and talented work of our student employees,” J.R. Tarabocchia, student affairs outreach coordinator, said in an email. Tarabocchia is also a member of the steering committee.

Tarrabocchia said the work student employees do can have a positive effect beyond the workplace.

“When done well and effectively, [student employment] has been shown to help students be successful insofar as GPA and graduation rates.”

Graduate assistants

Graduate assistants play an integral role in the functioning of PSU.

According to Dana Rognlie, vice president of membership communication for a local graduate assistant union, graduate students do 31.5 percent of the teaching at the University of Oregon. Her union, known as the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation Local 3544, has existed since the 1970s, and is one of only two graduate student unions in Oregon.

Graduate assistants at PSU are divided into teaching, research and administrative roles, where they assist a tenured professor with tasks such as grading papers or classroom instruction. They are paid a percentage of a full salary, from 15 to 45 percent, depending on how many hours they work.

“Forty percent of them are paid below the federal poverty level,” Rognlie said.

Rognlie argued graduate assistants perform the economic work of teachers, rather than spending time purely on tasks related to their own education. They should be considered employees rather than students, she said, and have the ability to bargain collectively.

One of the main benefits of Rognlie’s union is that it keeps assistants at UO protected from encroachments on their time and workload, she said. Graduate assistant unions have long been a divisive issue around the nation, with 28 recognized unions and one undergraduate union.

Career Center advice

Gregory Flores, associate director of PSU Career Services, had some advice for student employees about how to represent themselves.

Since many PSU student employees hold their positions for longer than six months or a year, Flores recommended students ask for an annual performance review.

Currently there are no formal requirements for departments to provide feedback to their employees.

Flores explained that PSU’s Human Resources department has paperwork and processes set up to make this easier for each department, but it is up to the employees to talk to their managers and advocate for themselves by asking for possible pay raises or extra training and responsibilities. He recommended outlining achievements in writing and setting up meetings with managers for periodic performance reviews.

“The big thing is knowing your value,” Flores said. “Demonstrate what you’ve done that’s above and beyond.”

Student employees typically pay fewer taxes on their paychecks than their private counterparts. If they are enrolled with half-time or more credits, students are exempt from Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes on their paychecks.

Student employees make anywhere from $8.80 per hour to $15 per hour, depending on their experience and the complexity of their position.

PSU students interested in student employment may apply using the Career Connect link at

Graduate assistants seeking employment are advised by the Office of Graduate Studies to correspond directly with their departments, though they are free to work as an assistant in any department.