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What is a Union? 

A union is simply a group of workers coming together to develop and form a democratic organization whose purpose is to advance and protect their collective interests as workers. 

Why do we need a union?

In order to effectively advance and protect our interest as workers it is imperative that workers have an independent organization, which is not controlled by the bosses/university, that enables us to develop the collective power needed to make change. Being in a union also gives us legal protections that we wouldn’t otherwise have while bringing up grievances. 

Who can join?

If your paycheck comes from either the University of Utah or Utah State, and you are not a dean, upper admin, or member of the campus police, then you are eligible to join the United Campus Workers of Utah (UCWU). We want to build a broad coalition of tenured, career-track, and contingent faculty; staff; graduate and undergraduate students; Facilities, Environmental Services Workers, and everyone whose work makes the university function. This is why we chose the United Campus Workers (UCW), a union that is committed to “wall-to-wall” organizing. UCW is a part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

What does “wall-to-wall” organizing mean? 

A wall-to-wall union means all university employees, regardless of job title, unite to make our university a better place to work and to educate, and we get to decide together who is eligible to join our union. We build unity on the issues we all share. Together we will democratically decide how our future elected leadership will be structured in order to make sure everyone is represented. A wall-to-wall union also helps to make sure the administration can’t use us against each other to avoid making necessary changes. It acknowledges that although we may have different job titles, we are all workers at the university, and we can support each other to make sure our needs and interests are addressed as they should be. 

How would our union navigate the differing interests of the different job titles, departments, and campuses?

We will have caucuses for our major employee groups, like contingent faculty, different staff groups, and graduate student workers as a way to address our job-specific concerns. These caucuses will allow us to ensure that the interests of all employees are heard, represented, and fought for. Although the caucuses will focus on individual employee groups, our union as a whole will still be united in solidarity as workers at the U! When a caucus is pushing for change, they will have the full union behind them providing support, not just their own caucus. 

Is a union even for me? I think of myself as an academic more than an employee, why should I be in a union?

Being an academic is no protection against being underpaid, overworked, or treated unfairly. In fact, academics are sometimes the most overworked and underpaid. Because we often work these jobs out of love for/interest in our field, we might decide that we’re willing to deal with the problems if it means we get to work on what we love. In fact, this is often used by bosses and admin to get away with unfair treatment. But we don’t have to deal with those problems, and we shouldn’t. This fact has led tens of thousands of university employees across the country to form unions. Major League Baseball and other professional sports players, with some members making millions of dollars a year, have a union. Being in a union is not about the type of work you do or about a white/blue collar divide. Being in a union is about making sure that we as workers have the power and solidarity to protect and advocate for our collective interests. 


How much are dues? What are they for? 

Monthly dues are determined on a salary scale as follows:

  • Below $20k: $10

  • $20k-$35k: $12

  • $35k-$50k: $20

  • $50k-$65k: $25

  • $65k-$80k: $30

  • Above $80k: 1% of monthly salary


The U does not consider cost of living when determining stipend or wage minimums. As a result, many of us make less than the cost of living. We chose to reduce the dues for salaries under 80k based on the cost of living numbers for a single adult with one dependent in Salt Lake City (77k). 

Dues are used to help fund our organizing campaigns, whether that be getting shirts and posters made for rallies, social events with food, etc. Some unions use dues to set up emergency funds that members can access if they have the need, others set up strike funds if striking becomes necessary. We as a union get to decide what is important to us to fund. In addition, $5 per member goes to the national union for a variety of structural/logistical tasks such as hiring the organizers that have helped us with our campaign! In general, dues support the operational expenses of our organization including resources, training, communications, lobbying and legal services, and more. Dues pay for our organization. The more members we have, the stronger our union. 

What is “pre-majority”?

In its broadest sense, pre-majority unionism means workers organizing and acting like a union even in circumstances where they do not have a contract or where winning such a contract does not seem to be a realistic near-term prospect (for example, when we can’t force the University to collectively bargain with us). In other words, it’s about being a union in all the other ways traditional unions are, whether or not the boss recognizes that union as a legal entity it’s required to bargain with. Because of this, we can officially unionize before we have the majority of employees signed up for the union (hence pre-majority). This is especially useful in Utah, where the state does not require the university to enter into collective bargaining agreements with a union. They may decide to bargain with us, but without bargaining, we can form as soon as we’re ready!

What can we do if collective bargaining isn’t an option?

A lot! Through a combination of organizing, mobilizing, and community and political action. Together, we build power to influence policies and how decisions are made within our university, all with the legal protections of being in a union. Unions of this kind with UCW/CWA have won a number of campaigns for things like improved wages and secured benefits, and successfully fought against austerity measures and privatization efforts. They have a history of these successes at public universities in states with similar labor laws to Utah, where collective bargaining isn’t available. Historically, wins like the 5 day work week, 8 hour days, and the establishment of collective bargaining were won by unions that used their collective power as workers even though they didn’t have the right to participate in collective bargaining. 

I have heard Utah is ‘anti union’ and a “right-to-work” state, what does that mean?

“Right-to-work” laws state that employment cannot be dependent on participation in a union. This means that employees cannot be required to join a union that already exists in their workplace, and it often makes it optional for employees to pay dues, even if they’re members of the union. While the name of the law implies that it provides freedom to workers, critics argue that it weakens unions and empowers corporations instead. Because of this, Utah has a reputation for being anti-union, especially for university employees, since they do not require the university to engage in collective bargaining. Luckily, we have plenty of other tools at our disposal! 

What can the university legally do to prevent organizing?

Legally, the university cannot prevent us from unionizing. However, they can and likely will take measures to discourage union participation. This may look like addressing a small number of concerns so that employees feel our union is unnecessary, trying to suggest that our union will be working against the interest of the workers, and generally positioning themselves in a positive light while trying to cast doubt on the strength of the union. It is important to know what these tactics are so that we can identify them when they are used to try to take power from the union. We have seen this a bit already, with the University claiming that they aren’t allowed to bargain with unions. In truth, this is just their policy, not the law, and policies can change! And our union is led by us, the workers! It’s not a distant third party, it’s formed, run, and organized by us, and we’ve made it in order to work for our collective interest. 

Can I get fired for joining, participating, or advocating for a union?

No! You have a Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association protections, which give you the right to join a labor union and organize collectively to seek improvement of the terms and conditions of your employment. It is unlawful for the university (or any employer) to fire you for joining, participating, or advocating for a union. Furthermore, if you are fired for another reason but you are suspicious that this is a cover for firing you for union participation, our union will go to bat with the University on your behalf with all of our collective power and resources. Many unions use a portion of dues to make sure we have legal assistance when we need it in case of situations like this. 

Will the union force me to go on strike?

No. Strikes only happen if we vote to authorize a strike, and nobody can force you to participate in a strike. Strikes are often seen as a last resort when other action is going unheard, and are highly unusual this early in a union campaign. Even in the event that we do strike, your participation cannot be forced. 

Once you are in the union, can you decide down the line that you no longer want to be in it?

Yes! Our union is here to benefit all of us. If you no longer feel that being a part of it is beneficial, you can choose to leave. There may be some paperwork to fill out, but your presence in our union is your choice.

How is this different from organizations like the Graduate and Professional Student Council, Staff Council, Academic Senate, GSAC, USAC, etc?

UCW Utah is not any kind of university governing body, and it is completely distinct from these organizations through its autonomy from the university administration and its focus on economic justice and equity for all UU and USU employees. While our interests may align and their contributions cannot be discounted, our union thrives on its independence and ability to act unencumbered by administrative concerns. Our only priority is UU and USU workers. While these groups often represent their membership (graduate students, staff members, or faculty, respectively) regardless of participation, our union depends on membership and direct democratic involvement from its members to build our power and shape our strategy. In addition, our union exists as long as it has members, and cannot be disbanded as a result of changes to university administrative structures or changes to university policy. Our union also gives us legal protection for organizing and bringing forth issues that are not guaranteed for campus advocacy groups.

How does becoming a union member benefit me, someone with a short term position at the university (e.g. a postdoc, a student in their last year, visiting faculty)?

As a majority of workers of the higher education system in this country, all campus workers have an interest in changing it for the better. Together we can create a future for higher education with a more humane workplace, greater racial and gender equity, and public education that is truly for the public. As a member of the union, you can help make sure the path is better for those that come after you, and help change the culture of academia.

Where else has this worked?

UCW/CWA has launched successful union campaigns in states with labor laws that are just like Utah’s! You can find a list of recent UCW wins in many states here! This is possible, and together we can organize for change!

I’ve heard the university legally can’t bargain with a union. What’s up with that?

Administrators like to say that this is true, because they don’t like the idea of bargaining with a union. But the fact is, this is a lie. The law in Utah simply says that the university is not required to bargain with a union. They are legally free to decide to bargain with us at any time, we just can’t force them to through majority union representation. It is the policy of the State System of Higher Education not to bargain with unions, but that’s a policy, not the law. If they wanted to, they could. And we don’t need them to formally bargain with our union in order to make change. 

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this pre-majority model without collective bargaining?

One of the strengths of our pre-majority wall-to-wall model is that we can go public as soon as we decide we’re ready, we don’t have to wait until we have a majority of employees signed on. In addition, unions with collective bargaining often need to be split by job title, since they’re doing contract negotiation with the university and a given contract will differ based on what job you have. So they need to have a union for graduate students, a union for faculty, a union for staff, etc. Without collective bargaining, we don’t have to worry about this. We get to be wall-to-wall, so everyone in the union - faculty, staff, students, etc - is working in solidarity with each other to improve our jobs. This makes it harder for the university to pit us against each other when we push for change, and it helps us build solidarity across job titles to improve the culture at our university. The biggest weakness we have is that because we don’t do formal bargaining, the University can (and likely will) pretend that any changes they make are totally unrelated to our cause, even when they align. This can make people think the union isn’t working. For example, we will definitely be pushing for improved graduate student pay. If they make improvements, it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll credit the union with pushing them that way. If people believe the university will improve things regardless of what the union does, it makes them less likely to join the union and makes us weaker. The solution to this is to make sure we and our fellow employees are aware of and keeping an eye out for this tactic. That way, when the U claims it did something regardless or in spite of the union’s demands, we know it isn’t true.