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‘It’s not okay.’ United Campus Workers campaign for student wage increase across UK

25 Jan, 2023

This article was originally published on the Kentucky Kernel website on November 4, 2022.

United Campus Workers (UCW) gathered on Oct. 27 to launch their campaign to increase UK student minimum wage to $15 an hour.

According to their website, United Campus Workers of Kentucky is the “wall-to-wall campus and public healthcare employees union for the Commonwealth of Kentucky representing faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate workers.”

UCW’s mission for the campaign was to bring attention to student wages and shine a light on the mistreatment of student workers and the neglect from UK.

“We’re trying to get more union membership, and we’re launching our petition that we want to spread all around campus and get as many people as possible to sign, so we can present it to the President and hopefully get it passed,” April Eling, a junior natural resource and environmental science major, said.

In 2020, UCW campaigned for and won $15 an hour for all employees, but student workers were not included in that raise.

“We do a lot of the vital work on campus, and we feel like the university needs to put its money where its mouth is,” Erin Maines, a sophomore forestry major with UCW, said. “It says that it values its students, but … the minimum we found, (was) $8 an hour.”

UCW held the campaign outside UK’s Main Building and encouraged attendees to sign a petition for the minimum wage increase upon arrival.

Representatives for UCW took turns sharing “horror stories” about their experiences with UK employment.

Workers highlighted personal instances of racism, lack of staff, lack of training, unclear standards and compensation that did not match the job requirements.

Maines worked at one of UK’s Agricultural Research Farms over the summer where she dealt with a variety of problems. She said that she was often working long days because there was minimal staff and doing tiring work in the sun with no lunch break for $12 dollars an hour.

“Something in me just snapped,” Maines said. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Hunter Hulett, a first-year graduate student in the linguistics department and representative for UCW, carries a frustrating workload with little compensation in his teaching assistant position.

“There is a lot of work I have to do every week … I would like it to be more standardized … I would like to be paid a lot more,” he said. “It would be great if there were more TAs working at this job specifically, linguistics … it’s a big workload per person.”

The UCW campaign emphasized to the attendees that students deserve a better quality work experience and more pay for the services they provide.

“I work two jobs to be able to afford to live, and I make more than a lot of people,” Eling said. “It’s not okay.”

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