It is easy to leave the labor issue alone because it might be overwhelming or pervasive. My past four years were devoted to spreading the word about the injustice of child labor and horrors of a neo-liberal free trade policy sending workers around the world on a race to the bottom. Most college students are aware of these world-wide issues, and we all have something to say about it. Whatever position you hold, however, the issue of labor seems too large to conquer.
But wait-somehow we have forgotten that labor issues exist in our own communities, not just in third world countries overseas. For those of you that wish to affect change, the best place to do it is here in our own community. My dad always told me to start local, and only now have I realized how important that idea is for the labor movement.
UVM prides itself as being an ethical and democratic institution. Just take a look at the web page, specifically the section on our values: “We are forward-looking and break new ground in addressing community and societal needs.” Everything we say UVM stands for provides that we take responsibility for the current issues coming forward here on campus.
First of all, the idea of livable wages on campus should find no resistance if we were to adhere to the ideas listed in our mission as a university. The truth, according to Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, is that 167 out of 307 service and maintenance workers make less than a livable wage ($12.02/hr.). The most recent wage trends on other college campuses show that Sodexo workers (numbering around 200) earn $8/hr on average. Finally, 279 out of 632 clerical workers make between $20-$25,000/yr (livable wage is $25,000/yr for a one person family).
These are injustices. As a community we should determine what ideals are most important to strive for, and Our Common Ground values page makes this clear: “As a just community, we unite against all forms of injustice… and we challenge injustice toward any member of our community.”
As students we owe our educational experiences to the accomplished professors that we see everyday in class. The full and part-time faculties are now battling for fair contracts. We need to support them.
UVM claims to have an amazing learning environment, where students have the ability to meet with their professors, and we all have the chance to experience small classrooms with inspired discussions.
Unfortunately, this university ideal is fading. Classrooms are getting bigger and we are losing the environment we so proudly claim to possess. There are fewer faculty members for an ever growing number of students.
This year, students couldn’t get into TAP programs simply because there weren’t enough programs to satisfy the demand. We aren’t attracting new faculty because we aren’t offering competitive salaries. Professors can’t afford Burlington, even if they are interested in our community. It is imperative that we support the faculty and part-time faculty. This isn’t just their problem-it’s ours too.
There are two more important issues. Right now the UVM staff has encountered substantial resistance in their efforts to organize a union. If the faculty can organize and debate their contracts, why can’t the staff? Why is there an existing negativity around the idea of unionizing?
The right to unionize is a crucial facet to our democracy-it gives workers a voice, and promotes an exchange of ideas between employees and employers that will benefit the community as a whole. We should respect the rights of university employees (everywhere on campus) to organize a union without interference from the University.
Finally, it is crucial we adopt something called Responsible Contractor procurement policies. These policies ensure that workers are afforded the necessary training, safety, pay, and benefits to support their families. Everyday we are met with construction on our walk to class, or we hear it as we wake up each morning. It is important that we respect their work, and if we all accept that construction workers are part of our community, we should make sure that UVM provides a fair work environment.
So how are the students supposed to show their support of these issues? On November 18th, the Board of Trustees will be meeting at Waterman. There will be a rally at noon. The presence of students proves that we are aware of the labor issues that exist on campus, and that we demand:
Livable wages for all UVM employees and subsidiary employees; a fair contract for full and part-time faculties; the right of UVM staff to organize; responsible contractor agreements. Stand with us, talk to us, question us-the 18th will mark a day of action, and hopefully a day of change, because, “We are personally and collectively responsible for our words and deeds…” It is time we truly recognize the labor movement that exists right here, on campus, in our community.