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Campus workers union rally held at Kentucky State Capitol

This article was originally published in The Kentucky Kernelon March 3rd, 2022. 

United Campus Workers for Kentucky hosted the Rally for Truth and Fairness at the Capitol Annex Building in Frankfort, Kentucky, on Feb. 23. 

UCWK advocates for better treatment of essential workers and teachers’ rights in Kentucky. At the rally, its members called for the state to give working Kentuckians a helping hand, protect the safety of Kentucky workers and protect Kentucky educators’ right to teach the truth. 

UCWK asked for the disbursement of American Rescue Plan funds dedicated to essential workers and improvement of worker safety measures in Kentucky. They also advocated for protection of educator’s rights to have honest discussions on race, sex and religion in the classroom.

The rally drew participants from multiple chapters of UCWK, including those from the University of Kentucky. 

One of the main topics highlighted was the resistance of Kentucky state legislators in giving essential workers the federal money set aside for them.

Cory Pollard, a custodian at UK, shared that since the beginning of the pandemic, he has not received any hazardous work pay from the government or the university. Other than the federal stimulus checks that were distributed to everyone, Pollard received no additional monetary aid.

“During the beginning of the pandemic, we were, of course, essential. For the first bit, anyway, we were not allowed to take any time off, and we were required to come in,” he said.

Pollard felt as though UK expected the custodial staff to perform a more thorough cleaning job during their shifts as compared to pre-pandemic expectations, yet they were given no pay increase to compensate for their increased workload.

The Rally for Truth and Fairness also aimed to protect the right of honest discussion in classrooms by protesting House Bill 138, which would limit a teacher’s freedom to hold honest conversation about race, religion, sex and other topics in the classroom if passed. 

While this bill currently only applies to K-12 teachers, there is concern it will soon extend to limit higher education institutions as well.

Johnna Warkentine, a Russian studies and linguistics double major at UK, attended the rally in support of all UCWK’s objectives but felt as though House Bill 138 has not received as much attention as it deserves.

Through their previous work in early childhood education, Warkentine has seen firsthand that children can understand these topics and deserve to be educated on them.

“In my experience, even young kids, they pick up on stuff,” Warkentine said. “They learn from adults, and they have questions, and we should be able to answer them.”

Warkentine currently has high school-aged brothers, but believes everyone has a stake in House Bill 138, whether they think it would directly impact their education or not.

“I care that students in my state are educated because those are the people that I’m going to be around and interacting with,” Warkentine said. “As people get older, it’s important for them to be educated and learn things. Not being able to do that is negative.”

Pollard and Warkentine both felt like the UCWK rally was a step toward their overall goal — giving working Kentuckians the proper benefits and rights they deserve.

Both mentioned a previous caucus meeting UCWK attended in December addressing similar issues. Warkentine noted the high level of support they received at the December meeting from working Kentuckians asking for distribution of ARP funds to essential workers.

Pollard believes UCWK has begun to make an impact on legislation and public conversation through media coverage and speaking out at meetings.

“This is the second time we’ve gone, and we’ve talked about it and addressed our opinions about it,” Pollard said. “I feel like the more times we do it and the more we push for it, we will succeed in getting what we want.”