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United Campus Workers Visit Pellissippi

By W.E. Butcher

On Wed., Oct. 27, Pellissippi faculty and organizers from the United Campus Workers – Communications Workers of America Union, Local 3865 (UCW) manned an informational table in the Rotunda of the Goins Administration Building of Pellissippi State’s Main Campus.

They were there for several hours providing union information, bumper stickers and buttons to passers-by as well as speaking with those interested in joining. According to Sydney Gingrow, a Pellissippi State English Professor, there are currently “at least 30 members [of the United Campus Workers Union] at Pellissippi since May [2010].”

When asked why she felt a union was needed at Pellissippi State, Gingrow replied that “it is really important to include all

Professor Robert Boyd, PhD. and Sidney Gingrow with a UCW worker.

[Tennessee] state workers in higher education. . . to support, protect, and encourage the 1,300 members across the state, particularly as they forge ahead with both opportunities and challenges with equal representation for all state workers, and particularly, all Pellissipians.”

Gingrow went on to say that this equal representation is extremely important amid the current political climate, budget concerns, and infringements on academic freedoms. At its September meeting, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution requesting “that PSCC recognize as an ‘affiliated group or organization’ the Pellissippi Chapter of the United Campus Workers, as per TBR Policy 3:02:02:00.”

Reasons given for this request, as included in the Resolution, were that there were over 20 employees of PSCC who were already members of UCW, there were over 1,100 state-employed members of UCW statewide, PSCC recognized groups are allowed to use Pellissippi State campus facilities, and that PSCC already recognizes a number of diverse groups devoted to a wide range of topics (including politics, honor societies, social justice, disc golf, and video gaming).

The Faculty Senate Resolution does not endorse the United Campus Workers Union, but instead “respects the rights of individuals to form and join campus groups as they wish.” Opinions are mixed among faculty and staff when it comes to the presence and representation of a labor union at Pellissippi State.  Many faculty members are asking why they need a union at all.

Cameron Brooks, Lead Organizer for United Campus Workers, was interviewed after the informational event.  When Brooks was asked what UCW can bring to the faculty and staff of Pellissippi State Community College, he explained, “We’re made up of over 1,200 higher education workers across the state of Tennessee and we’re run by people who have worked in higher education. We feel that if people don’t come together and organize and build a voice that is stronger than any one individual, that a lot of the challenges we [in higher education] face will be insurmountable then.”

He went on to explain that it has been over 4 years since many people have received a pay-raise and that recent changes to the state health-care plans have adversely affected the faculty and staff of Tennessee’s colleges.  Brooks claimed that at the University of Tennessee, where UCW has been active for some time, the union was responsible for garnering large pay raises for UT employees “that really affected – that brought up people on the lower end of the pay scale.”

Some “contract-employees” at Pellissippi State, such as Adjunct Faculty and student-employees (none of whom were willing to go on record) fear that if they openly support or join UCW, their contracts would simply not be renewed and they would lose their jobs.  When asked about these fears, Brooks replied, “I think that the fact that this kind of work environment exists, that people would have that fear based on what they choose to be associated with, is all the more reason why we need to be organizing.”

Asked about the Pellissippi State Administration’s response to the work of union organizers such as himself, Mr. Brooks stated, “there was a point where I think there was some misunderstandings about our putting flyers on campus and so beyond that, I think that the top administration here [at Pellissippi State] knows what’s right and what’s legal and I don’t feel like there’s any push-back at all from them.”

Another membership drive and information session is planned for Fri., Oct. 29 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Goins Rotunda.