Labor coalition speaks: University workers deserve better
By Alice Carlson
The University of Maryland (UMD) Labor Coalition met on Oct. 21 to discuss labor rights for university workers, including faculty, and undergraduate and graduate students employed by UMD.
The coalition includes representatives of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Fearless Student Employees (FSE), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Collectively, the groups advocate on behalf of the university’s employees across a range of issues, including establishment of a living wage, improved working conditions and the right to collective bargaining, which would allow employees to unionize.
Currently, the university uses a meet-and-confer process, said Jan-Michael Archer, FSE president. Workers are entitled to meet with a dean-level university employee to discuss their concerns about working conditions. Archer said that these meetings rarely resolve issues, though. “We are workers … the current system only works for the university; it does not work for the workers,” he said.
Coalition members met at Hornbake Place for their second annual picnic and discussed their concerns; they also shared stories of their advocacy work. The informal occasion was a community-building opportunity, said Samuel DiBella, FSE media and organizing co-chair. DiBella noted that the event also attracted potential members.
Sentiments ran high among picnic attendees. “Why is it that while claiming we value our student workers, we deprive them of the funds to carry out their dreams? Why is it that we fatigue our professors and teachers assistants to the point where they cannot carry out their true research desires? Why do we fail to support our staff?” said USAS member Micah Ferguson.
Other coalition members echoed Ferguson’s sentiments. “I talked to people that have been working at this university for twenty … years, and they’ve been getting paid the same as when they began. Is that fair?” said Grace Orellana, who also belongs to USAS..
Coalition members also urged the group and passersby to support legislation granting workers the right to collectively bargain. Coalition members noted the importance of voting in state races, including in November’s election.
Voting is part and parcel of the coalition’s broader goals of educating and empowering everyone at UMD — students, administrators and faculty and alike. “One of the things that I really hope we all can start to build out of this is an awareness that all of this is interconnected. All our forms of labor are interconnected and keep this university running, and the way in which everybody works, and the conditions under which they’re made to work affect all of our environments. So please, come out to support things like this,” said AAUP representative Matthew Miller.
The picnic ended as it started: with all members participating in a chant led by Kelsey Coleman.
“When workers’ rights are under attack what do we do?”
“Stand up. Fight back.”
Organizers plan to do exactly that.