Demonstrators demand higher wages for college workers

About 50 demonstrators demanded during a midday rally Wednesday at the Georgia Capitol that state lawmakers do more to address “unlivable wages and exorbitant fees charged to graduate students.”

The demonstrators, part of the United Campus Workers of Georgia, want lawmakers to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 a hour for full- and part-time University System of Georgia employees. They also want fees waived that graduate students pay for various campus services while also working as teaching assistants.

One speaker, Gabi Lichtenstein, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, said she receives a $14,000 stipend for work she does at the school, but pays 16% of that money in student fees. Lichtenstein said she could use some of that money for additional health care services.

There are about 53,500 graduate students in the University System. The cost of student fees, which help fund health care, athletics, transportation and other costs, have been a longtime concern for students. Mandatory fees at some schools are more than $1,000. The University System created a task force late last year to look at student fees. The University of Georgia, which has about 7,500 graduate students, announced in November it would add $100,000 last year and another $100,000 this year to an emergency fund for students facing financial hardship.

State Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta, who also spoke at the rally, said he plans to introduce legislation later this month to address the concerns, particularly wages. Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed budget includes $1,000 raises for all state workers, including those in the University System, with annual salaries below $40,000. The demonstrators applauded the plan, but say that’s still not enough.