The United Auto Workers (UAW) represents about 100,000 workers in higher education across the country, including student workers, postdoctoral and academic staff researchers, and contingent and part-time faculty. As impressive as these numbers are, they don’t tell the whole story. In reality, our 100,000 workers today are 100,000 members in siloes, and weaker because of it.
This unsettling truth may not be apparent on UConn’s campus where student workers and postdocs have stopped business as usual and won invaluable protections. But, despite the heroic effort these mobilizations have taken, academic workers deserve better than what our collective bargaining agreements provide and deserve a union that is part of the movement to change higher education. For that, we desperately need to forge solidarity across our campuses.
That’s why we call on UConn community members to support the Members United slate in the upcoming UAW elections and organize for power together. Whether you are a voting UAW member or an ally of organized labor on campus, this election is a key moment in the higher education labor movement — one that will undoubtedly shape our working and learning conditions here at UConn.
We believe that higher education needs a ‘sectoral organizing strategy’. Sectoral organizing is what will allow us to counter the proliferation of non-union adjunct labor in response to unionization, while bolstering the effort to win better wages and working conditions across different employers. The UAW has pursued a sectoral organizing strategy in the auto sector since the union’s inception and engages in pattern bargaining to this day with the Big Three automakers — Ford, GM and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler). Every four years, the UAW brings together delegates across locales and regions for a bargaining convention where strategic decisions that directly impact auto and manufacturing are made. This vision is exactly what Brandon Mancilla — previously the first president of Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU), and currently an organizer at the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys — outlines on his platform for our region, 9A: Organizing, Democracy and Social Justice.
Currently rank-and-file organizers at every higher education local within the UAW feel disconnected from one another. “UAW staff have always opposed grassroots labor organizing among student workers,” shared Sheila Kulkarni from Local 2865 at University of California. “It’s been demoralizing to watch the same people who are supposed to be helping workers build a strong union try to clamp down on truly member-led campaigns.”
For nearly seventy years, the UAW has been governed by the same group, called the Administration Caucus. The union’s regional directors, who make decisions about resources and lobbying and represent the academic locals to the IEB, are members of this entrenched caucus. In 2019, a corruption scandal revealed that money supposed to be for organizing was used for luxury vacations by UAW officials. It was then that the federal government mandated a 2021 referendum that ultimately gave UAW members the right to elect their union leaders. This year, for the first time, we get to elect our leaders, and all the incumbents are running on the Curry Solidarity Team — the same team that objected to members’ right to vote and voted to decrease strike pay at the last Convention.
Let us elect pro-reform candidates this election and finally get together across campuses at a sectoral organizing convention in 2023. The time to reshape higher education is now.