University Students Unionizing Across US For Better Pay

April 13, 2023

The spring of 2023 will be remembered at U.S. colleges and universities as “a massive labor movement” is sweeping across the country, with professors, students, and other faculty members organizing unions and preparing to strike, according to the Bucks County Beacon (BCB), an independent news outlet based in Pennsylvania.


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From Pennsylvania’s Bucks County in the East that borders New York and New Jersey to elite Stanford University on the Pacific Coast, dozens of America’s 4,000-some institutes of higher learning will soon become labor union battlegrounds, experts said.

College and university students hoped to convince administrators to boost wages and benefits for thousands of hard-working young adults across America whose work contributions are critical to daily campus life, from lifeguards at swimming pools, to teaching assistants for other students, to workers in campus dining halls, and many other roles. For decades, these workers had been underpaid and exploited.

“Graduate student workers are the driving force of Stanford’s academic excellence. However, the lack of fair compensation for their work that is commensurate with the cost of living is detrimental to graduate productivity and their personal well-being,” the Stanford Daily, the university’s student newspaper, posted in an opinion piece on April 6.

Last week, on the campus of Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, students from the United Campus Workers (UCW) of Arizona collected signatures to give student workers a salary raise to US$25 per hour by 2025, a petition they hoped to present to the university president later this month.

UCW is a union representing faculty, staff and student workers at Arizona’s universities, including ASU. According to its mission statement, UCW is working “to champion and defend the interests and well-being of all university workers, as well as to build and sustain social and economic justice in our workplaces and communities.”

At Philadelphia’s Temple University, some campus jobs still pay US$7.25 an hour, and “undergraduate organizers are demanding a US$15 minimum wage, overtime pay, and an end to the gender pay gap,” BCB said.

Demonstrations, strikes, and labor organizing workshops are scheduled to take place in a number of schools in New York, California, Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Washington D.C., and Hawaii.

The pioneer of the college unionizing effort is Grinnell College, a tiny, boutique four-year liberal arts college hidden in the cornfields of Iowa with just 1,748 students. Last year, Grinnel College student workers elected to create the first wall-to-wall undergraduate student union in the U.S., expanding their dining-hall worker union to all student workers.

The American labor movement and the National Labor Relations Board were created almost a century ago during the period of time known as the Great Depression.

Through labor unions, millions of American workers for the first time in history got Saturdays and Sundays off work and paid vacation time from their employers, including Christmas and Thanksgiving.

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