56.8 F

UM Faculty, Staff Establish First Higher Education Union in Mississippi

By Talbert Toole
Lifestyles Editor

Photo via United Campus Workers of Mississippi.

Faculty and staff members at the University of Mississippi have been in the process of organizing the United Campus Workers of Mississippi (UCW) union for more than a year. Now that the union has started the chartering process, it has become Mississippi’s first higher education union.

Jessica Wilkerson, assistant professor of history and southern studies at Ole Miss, studies southern labor and working class history in Mississippi. While she was teaching at a community college in Tennessee, Wilkerson was a part of this particular union during her tenure.

The model of United Campus Workers is organizing in public higher education in the Southeast region, Wilkerson said. Although Mississippi’s union only has one chapter, Wilkerson said the idea is it will be a union for all public higher education employees in the state.

“[UCW] is not affiliated with the University of Mississippi,” Wilkerson said. “We are our own independent body.”

As the chapter grows with new members, Wilkerson said she suspects that employees of universities, such as Mississippi State University and Southern Mississippi, will join the state’s union relatively soon.

While Wilkerson watched similar unions grow and work in Tennessee and Georgia, she became interested in a UCW union for the Magnolia State.

More than a year ago, Wilkerson and other employees of the university began to hold interest meetings. A representative of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) visited the meetings which sparked further interest from employees, Wilkerson said.

CWA is an international union which works as the parent union for the United Campus Workers.

Over this past summer, Wilkerson said union organizers decided they wanted to start the process of pledging members. The goal was set at 50 members before chartering the union, which the chapter accomplished recently.

Now that the union has officially pledged its members, Wilkerson said she filed the paperwork to charter the union with the CWA as a local chapter.

Faculty, Staff Rights in the Workplace

Unions have been a part of U.S. history since the country’s birth, according to History.com. However, the university’s chapter differs from the earliest unions, specifically private sector unions.

Private sector union members have collective bargaining rights with employers, according to Wilkerson, which gives those members rights to bargain for better work contracts.

A representative from that respective union would speak on behalf of its members with the employee to develop and bargain on contractual work; however, Mississippi’s constitution does not allow employees in higher education to have collective bargaining rights.

“We have to think of other ways that [the union] might campaign for or put pressure on the state legislature, Institute for Higher Learning, or our administration to make changes in workplace policy,” Wilkerson said.

The UCW would work towards its goal through campaigns, lobbying, and representation that can advocate for change on the union’s behalf to those who decide on policy.

The union’s mission statement reads, “United Campus Workers of Mississippi unites the University of Mississippi’s diverse workforce–including part-time and full-time staff, faculty, and student laborers–to address the critical issues we all face. Our mission is to champion and defend the interests and well-being of all University labor, as well as to build and sustain social and economic justice in our workplaces and in our communities.”

Challenges at Hand

Wilkerson said one of the things the union is looking to change is university employee pay. She said the pay scale of university employees is shocking because many employees make $16,000 to $20,000 annually, which is less than the cost to live in the LOU community.

“Pay has been a big issue,” she said. “That’s the really big thing.”

Other issues that have risen in the chapter’s interest meetings have been lack of policy on family and parental leave. Wilkerson said Mississippi’s higher education only has the federal policy which says an employee can only take 12 weeks unpaid leave when many other universities offer some type of paid leave.

Those interested in joining the union said another issue that came to light was the fact some university employees did not feel respected or treated with dignity in the workplace.

JT Thomas, an assistant professor of sociology at Ole Miss, said him addressing an issue with his supervisor does not give him much leverage, but a hundred other employees going to their direct supervisor voicing the same concern gives collective strength and leverage.

“Unions provide labor with a collective voice that can communicate shared concerns,” he said.

Although there has been some hesitation voiced among the university’s faculty and staff about whether it could organize a union here in Mississippi, and on the Ole Miss campus specifically, Thomas said there has not been any pushback or negative feedback.

“Some people have expressed concern that organizing a union here, and now, may make us a target of anti-union legislators in Jackson,” he said. “But that strikes me as a silly reason to not organize.”

The union chapter is a wall-to-wall union, Wilkerson said, which means anyone who receives a paycheck from the University of Mississippi can join.

“To me, there is power in identifying with one another as workers and learning about our experiences here on this campus,” Wilkerson said.

For employees of the University of Mississippi and are interested in more information about joining the United Campus Workers of Mississippi, visit the union’s Facebook page, Twitter account, or email ucwmississippi@gmail.com.

Most Popular

Recent Comments

scamasdscamith on News Watch Ole Miss
Frances Phillips on A Bigger, Better Student Union
Grace Hudditon on A Bigger, Better Student Union
Millie Johnston on A Bigger, Better Student Union
Binary options + Bitcoin = $ 1643 per week: https://8000-usd-per-day.blogspot.com.tr?b=46 on Beta Upsilon Chi: A Christian Brotherhood
Jay Mitchell on Reflections: The Square
Terry Wilcox SFCV USA RET on Oxford's Five Guys Announces Opening Date
Stephanie on Throwback Summer
organized religion is mans downfall on VP of Palmer Home Devotes Life to Finding Homes for Children
Paige Williams on Boyer: Best 10 Books of 2018
Keith mansel on Cleveland On Medgar Evans
Chanyeol on