Janet Miles, CAP-OM (janetmiles) wrote,
Janet Miles, CAP-OM

I seem to have acquired a new role in my life: union activist

See, I joined United Campus Workers (UCW-CWA) earlier this year, and promptly Got Involved, to the point that I was asked to give the speech introducing this year's lobbying campaign. For my permanent records, here it is.

Good evening! I’d like to echo Vice President Kerscheiter's, State Director Dunlap's, and Rep. Tindell's welcomes, and thank you again for taking the time to join us this evening.

United Campus Workers has gained ground in the last few years. It was primarily through our efforts that the state legislature added a floor to the last three years' percentage raises -- and last year was the best yet, with a minimum $900 raise for those making the least money. If you were here in 2005 or 2006, you may recall that the funds for raises were separated, with faculty receiving only vaguely-defined "merit" increases and next to nothing for cost-of-living. In 2007, UCW was able to negotiate for inclusion of faculty in the across-the-board increase, with merit pay being in addition to that.

But that's only a start, and not yet enough. Two years ago, the Faculty Senate determined that a living wage was $22,318. If we look just at full-time, regular employees being paid from general funds, 13% -- more than a thousand people -- are making less than that now, two years later. If we consider all UT employees being paid from general funds -- including student, term, and part-time -- it's even worse, with 35% -- more than five thousand people -- who don't earn a living wage. Even that number doesn't include our contract employees (food service and janitorial), because we don't have access to their salary information.

Brothers and sisters, living in poverty is not the American Dream. Scraping from paycheck to paycheck is not the American Dream. Seeing your salary lag further and further behind market values is not the American Dream. UCW's 2008 Campaign for UT's Working Families wants to reclaim the American Dream for all UT employees! We believe that whatever your family looks like -- whether you’re single or partnered, straight or gay, raising children or caring for elderly parents, helping support a disabled sibling or fostering abandoned animals -- whatever your family looks like, you deserve a living wage. You deserve to be able to buy a house, to own a car, to take a vacation. You deserve to be able to send your kids to school without going bankrupt. You deserve a salary on par with UT's peer institutions. And you deserve the protections granted almost 70 years ago by the Fair Labor Standards Act!

And that’s why the 2008 Campaign for UT's Working Families is two-pronged this year. First, it’s about basic economic fairness. Frankly, we'd like to see a flat raise for everyone. If you took the $20 million that was budgeted for the 2007 raise pool and divided it equally, it would have been $1,800 per person. Even if you take out the amount that was allotted to desperately needed equity raises, we're still talking about almost $1,600 per person. If you made less than $53,000 in 2006, you’d have come out ahead.

We know that won't happen, though. Instead, we are aiming for a 4% raise with a $1,500 floor. Why four percent? Well, inflation last year was about 2%, so we need that much just to stay in one place; and we'd like to see 2% to begin to redress all the years with no raises, where our income remained the same, but the value of that income dropped. We're going to make it clear that this 4% needs to be across-the-board -- faculty as well as staff -- before any so-called merit pay. It's not enough, but just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither can we repair a decade of damage in one year's campaign. It's a start.

Second, we want UT to right a wrong. We have almost 200 employees who would normally be considered non-exempt, who would normally receive Fair Labor Standards Act protection and time-and-a-half pay for overtime. But because those people work at the Agricultural Experiment Stations, they are classified as "agricultural production workers," and they're exempted from that portion of the Act. People, that’s just not right!

Now, to be fair, UT does have the law on its side. That exemption does exist. But really, was it written into the law to protect multi-million dollar research universities? No! That was written for the small farmer half a century ago, someone who needed to hire extra hands during planting and harvesting seasons, someone who needed to be able to work those long hours because of the pressure of time.

Just because something is legal, sisters and brothers, doesn't make it right. It's been 130 years since unions campaigned for "8 hours work, 8 hours rest, and 8 hours to call our own." Why in the world are we still fighting that same battle today? UT shouldn't expect people to consistently work 45 hours or more per week, and certainly shouldn’t expect them to do so at straight-time wages.

And that is why we have unions: together, we are strong. We need your commitment, your fire. We need you to talk to your co-workers about UCW. The more members we have, the stronger we are -- and it's true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We need you to help lobby UT administration and our state legislators, whether it be by writing letters, making phone calls, or showing up in Nashville to demand fair treatment. We need you to talk to your friends and neighbors and encourage them to tell our representatives to support our goals!

An educated populace is vital to a healthy society. Without us, the workers, the faculty and staff, UT couldn't provide the broad-based education it does, both in terms of classes and extension outreach to working farmers. Shouldn't we see our fair share of the compensation?


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