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University of Utah and Utah State Campus Workers Announce New Union, Necessary to Improve Student Success

University of Utah and Utah State Campus Workers Announce New Union, Necessary to Improve Student Success


Organizers say our union will protect graduate students, undergraduate workers, staff, and faculty, leading to greater student success in higher education

Monday, February 26, 2024

Salt Lake City - In response to growing concerns surrounding livable wages, legislative attacks on public employees, and protections for academic professionals at the University of Utah and Utah State University, we are proud to announce United Campus Workers Utah (UCWU) Local #7765, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America. Our union was formed by and for the community of staff, students, academics, and researchers at the University of Utah and Utah State University who want an independent voice to advocate for ourselves and our students. We are hundreds of teaching assistants, research assistants, researchers, professors, facilities and custodial staff, and other workers throughout both universities - as well as all of higher education in Utah. We believe our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, and will fight for substantial changes to ensure their future success. 


We expect the following changes:

  1. Fair and transparent wages that reflect the high cost of living along the Wasatch Front and are commensurate with peer institutions.
  2. Improved healthcare and parking benefits for all employees.
  3. Equitable and safe working conditions for all employees, and for the universities to address the widespread sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.
  4. Immediate actions by the University to address our concerns.

Recent job satisfaction employee surveys, including UHealth academics, concluded what many of us were already painfully aware of: we are not paid fairly for the work we do, and we do not have control over our workloads. Staff, in particular, continuously point out there are no adequate opportunities for them to advance their career at the University of Utah. Despite loving our work, and being proud to work for higher education in Utah, the stress of low wages and increasing work responsibilities without advancement opportunities is causing burnout among the very people tasked with providing the next generation with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in society today. 


Our universities have attempted to address burnout through wellness and resiliency programs, but research has shown those programs do little to actually improve employee well-being. Individual intervention is not enough. The researchers found well-being was more tied to “core organizational practices” like flexible work schedules and increased pay. The United States Department of the Treasury released a report in October, detailing the direct effect unions have on better working conditions, elevating and strengthening the middle class, and improving the nation’s economy. Public sector educators are one of the largest demographics of unionized professionals in the country, and in comparable positions, union workers earn, on average, 14% higher wages than their nonunion counterparts. In particular, the University of Utah is the flagship institution of our state, and aims to be a top ten university with an enrollment of 40,000 students, without any consideration in their strategy for how that expected growth will affect our already stressful working conditions. 


An adjunct professor is juggling three jobs to make ends meet. “I love teaching, and my students at the U deserve the best I can offer as an educator. However, as an adjunct professor, I am faced with the constant dilemma of balancing my two other part-time jobs (yes, two) with my teaching load (which amounts to a minimum of 15 hours a week of prep, grading, and in-class instruction). I hold several advanced degrees but struggle to afford healthcare, rent, and car payments. It’s exhausting and demoralizing.”


Graduate student healthcare coverage is minimal, and does not adequately cover prescription costs, mental health access, or emergency visits. It also requires referrals for specialists, and adding spousal coverage is unaffordable on a graduate student stipend. As one student said, “For the last five years I basically have stopped seeking out medical attention, preventative or otherwise. I am now no longer comfortable seeking medical attention because I doubt I could afford it if I did. Being sick is preferable to being homeless.” 


Utah State University regularly loses good employees due to toxic environments. One former staff member said, “After working with incredible employees across USU, I became discouraged at how little USU did to help support employees and value them. USU does not pay ground-level employees equitably and continues to ignore harmful abuses of power, including racist and sexist attitudes at the top levels of USU. USU’s culture and systems are set up to only do what is legally required when it comes to taking care of employees. There are not sufficient systems to truly hold employees in higher positions of power accountable for their harmful actions.”

Utah State also lacks a grievance process that works for its students and employees. Graduate students are regularly bullied and retaliated against by their advisors and superiors. One Utah State graduate student who eventually left the program said, “It is crucial for USU authorities to address this issue and ensure that students are guaranteed a safe and supportive environment during their stay. No student should experience the kind of bullying I faced from my supervisor, and it is essential to take steps to prevent this behavior from happening again.”


A staff member frustrated by parking costs explained, “After earning two Master's degrees and finally getting a reclass to a better position after six years, I find out the pay increase I worked so hard for is now going to have to go towards another price hike in parking they didn’t even have the decency to email me about. And then I find out they’re planning to quietly raise the price every year? I’m about to be charged a thousand dollars a year to park my car in a structure that’s a ten minute walk from my office? That’s the cost of a vacation! Give me a break. We don’t all live downtown next to the UTA lines!” 


Even with the data from annual surveying, university attempts to address our concerns are insufficient. The topics of wages and workload are explicitly off limits in many University listening sessions. We invite eligible workers in all job classes and roles employed by University of Utah or Utah State University to join in this important effort to improve working conditions and advance student success. It is your right to organize for improved working conditions, and hundreds have already joined. Ultimately, we believe that advocating for academic workers is advocating for the next generation of college graduates, and we welcome all higher education employees across our beautiful state to join us. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, and it is those graduates who will continue to shape our community, our city, and our state. An investment in our labor is an investment in those students who are our collective future.


For more information or to enquire about membership, or set up interview please contact us: 


[email protected]


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