Good stuff from the VA Tech Graduate Labor Union and United Campus Workers:
Two New Unions Form at Virginia Tech, Will Hold Campus Rally on Tuesday
After three years of organizing on Virginia Tech’s campus, graduate student workers, faculty, and staff are announcing the formation of two democratically-run organizations dedicated to an even better Virginia Tech: the Virginia Tech Graduate Labor Union, an affiliate of the Virginia Education Association; and United Campus Workers – Virginia Tech, affiliated with the UCW and Communication Workers of America. The two unions will make their debut at a rally on Tuesday.
“By joining our union, we can work together to make VT a better work environment and develop true equity throughout the university for everyone involved. It’s the best way to ensure our voices work in unison to produce the changes employees need at Virginia Tech.” says UCW-VT member Darryl Campbell, a Contracts Specialist in the Office of Sponsored Programs.
VT GLU and UCW-VT proudly join the American labor movement, and believe that every employee on the VT campus deserves an advocate, a living wage, a safe workplace, academic freedom, and respect. Already, our members have helped make significant changes at Virginia Tech, including a $15/hour minimum wage for all campus workers and significant raises for over 700 graduate workers this fall.
Prescott Vayda, VT GLU member and PhD candidate in Geosciences said “A lot of people have been working on this for a long time. Going public is such a huge milestone. We’ve seen the change we can inspire with only a couple hundred students working together. Imagine what we will accomplish with a couple thousand. I really can’t wait to have everyone on board.”
When: Tuesday, September 5, 2023, from 1-4 p.m.
Where: Graduate Life Center Lawn, 155 Otey St., Blacksburg. Campus march at 2:30 pm.
Speakers at the Rally, along with members of both new unions, will include: Dr. James J. Fedderman (President, VEA), Chuck Simpson (President, Western Virginia AFL-CIO), Lily Franklin (VA House of Delegates candidate), Katie Seidemann (President, Montgomery County Education Association), Kristy Vance (Member, Kroger Union and 2000 Virginia Tech graduate)
Virginia Tech Graduate Labor Union (VT GLU) Public Statement
We are extending Labor Day at Virginia Tech! For years, we have been working on building the Virginia Tech that all of us deserve. Today, we are announcing our unions together in solidarity. The graduate students are unionizing as the Virginia Tech Graduate Labor Union (VT GLU), the newest local of the Virginia Education Association. Undergraduate workers, faculty, and staff of all classifications–full-time, part-time, tenured and tenure-track, non-tenure-track, and adjunct–are unionizing as United Campus Workers-Virginia Tech (UCW-VT) chapter of the statewide UCW VA, affiliate of Communication Workers of America (CWA).
Our two unions have united in this announcement out of a shared commitment that every person working on our campus deserves an advocate on the job, a living wage, a safe working environment, academic freedom, and respect for their individual contributions to the university. Virginia Tech is a leader in higher education because of the work of our staff and administrative faculty who manage the university’s daily operations, our custodial and maintenance personnel whose often-overlooked labor enables us to work on a truly beautiful campus, and our faculty and graduate students who teach our undergraduates and conduct groundbreaking research. As a public institution of higher education, we owe it to our students, our fellow researchers, and our colleagues to provide the best possible learning conditions for our students.
Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.
In the past few years, the VT GLU successfully lobbied within shared governance for a $15/hour minimum wage for all full time staff among a dozen other policies to improve working conditions on campus. We have fought fiercely for comprehensive reproductive healthcare for students and a campus free of sexual violence. This fall, over 700 graduate workers received significant raises due to the GLU’s persistent organizing as well as our repeated picketing of the Board of Visitors meetings. All of these beneficial policies were the result of hard work from hundreds of graduate students who would often face indifference and even threats as a result.
We fought to keep those students safe, and we will keep fighting, because there is more work to do. Graduate workers need 12-month contracts, clarity in job roles, and equal opportunity hiring practices for graduate assistantships. Six months after publication of the living wage task force report, no timeline has been released for carrying out the task force recommendations. This is a continuation of a string of empty promises from the VT executive administration. While graduate students were promised a 5% cost of living raise each year over the past three years, a preliminary survey shows at least 1 in 10 graduate students did not receive the raise this year or last year due to payment system and contract errors. There is no plan to repay us for these lost wages. The Graduate Labor Union will continue this fight for fair pay and will hold these administrators accountable to their promises until everyone has a living wage.
We are building the Virginia Tech that we were promised in university brochures. Where we can eat, pay our rent, teach our students, and do world-changing work. Where students, staff, and faculty are protected from prejudice, institutional bias, sexual
violence, and acts of hatred. Where the Cranwell International Center has the staff they need to file forms on time. Where those who didn’t grow up with professor parents have the same access to knowledge and resources to succeed throughout their careers.
Where shared governance, Title IX, the Office of Equity and Accessibility, and our grievance processes, work. Without collective power, these policies, promises, governance structures, even the civil rights laws that are supposed to protect us – are
meaningless. We want every single Virginia Tech student to know that taking action to advocate for yourself and others is one of the proudest traditions we have here at Virginia Tech. Indeed, it exemplifies Ut Prosim.
If we want progress, we need organized labor on campus. Feeling the pressure we’ve created, many executive administrators at Virginia Tech have come to the table and built working relationships with us. We have fought for change, sometimes against these executives and sometimes by their side. While individual relationships are not powerful enough for the changes that VT graduate students need, we hope to continue these productive collaborations. We would like to remind everyone in the university community that treating us differently because we belong to a union is illegal both in Virginia and federally. Regrettably, unlike every other type of worker in Virginia, state employees are barred from collective bargaining and being officially recognized. While we are fighting to change these unjust laws, the rights we do have will not be violated. VT GLU proudly stands in solidarity with UCW-VT and all other worker organizations.
We stand with UCW-VT’s admirable fight to ensure academic freedom is respected while higher education is increasingly under attack. We are thrilled that faculty and staff colleagues are building a democratic workers organization to powerfully advocate for their needs. We also stand in support of organizations like the carpenters union, who have been fighting to receive fair pay for their work on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg and Northern Virginia campuses. We stand with the Virginia Education Association who recently won the right to collectively bargain in Montgomery County. We stand with them, as they stand with us. To every worker at Virginia Tech: We are fighting with you.
WE are Virginia Tech. Onwards together!
Appendix 1: WAGE THEFT ON VT CONSTRUCTION SITES
In Blacksburg and at the Innovation Campus in Northern Virginia, our compatriots in the carpenters union have been fighting their own fair pay battle. The Carpenters Union,
which represents mostly immigrant workers, has been trying to convince Virginia Tech to pay its construction workers fairly.
In 2021, the General Assembly enacted a law requiring public entities to pay “prevailing wages” on all projects over $250 million. Paying workers the average wages for their area reduces the exploitation, wage theft, and misclassification that is rampant in the construction industry.
Unlike other higher education institutions in Virginia, VT decided to abuse a loophole in the law and exempt itself from this requirement. We join with the Carpenters and other unions representing immigrant construction workers to demand that Virginia Tech agree to pay prevailing wages at its Blacksburg campus and wherever it has properties around the state including the Innovation Campus in Alexandria.
Appendix 2: SILENCING STUDENTS WHO WANT SEXUAL VIOLENCE OFF OUR CAMPUS
The United Feminist Movement at VT has been fighting for an end to sexual violence on campus. After years of protests, Tim Sands chartered the first Sexual Violence Culture and Climate (SVCC) Work Group. However, this group’s work was cut short by the pandemic and a lack of administrative seriousness about addressing the issue. Despite being the driving force behind the SVCC, United Feminist Movement students were given token roles and had their contributions brushed aside when it came to suggesting concrete, actionable steps forward.
However, UFM bravely continued to fight for survivors and continued to hold protests demanding that the SVCC not only reconvene but specifically take the voices of students seriously this time. Eventually, Tim Sands relented but the previous problem remained as students only hold 4 out of the 35 seats on it, and both students and UFM specifically have been excluded from decision making. The university said they could not compensate students for working on the task force, while refusing to report what they’re paying outside HR consultants. The SVCC task force was given the right to change policy, however it has= publicly committed to only running education campaigns despite the rapidly accelerating rate of violent incidents on campus (See the annual Title IX report for more). Collective action got the task force started, and only collective action and the student voice will make it work.
Appendix 3: FIGHTING FOR REPRODUCTIVE HEALTHCARE ACCESS
After a year of advocacy, the reproductive health resolution was passed by University Council, guaranteeing access to mifepristone and misoprostol in the student health center as well as expanding access to reproductive healthcare. However, Tim Sands has refused to sign the new policy – it is sitting on his desk. Additionally, the Vice-President for Inclusion and Diversity, Menah Pratt, voted against this resolution and many other equity initiatives over the last several years including the living wage for graduate students. This betrays a deep seated disinterest in improving the lives of campus workers among even the executive administrators who are tasked with building an inclusive environment.
Appendix 4: CLIMATE ACTIVISM AND THE TIMES HIGHER ED RANKINGS
In 2009 it was a coalition of students and faculty who first pushed then president Steger to adopt the first set of university climate policies. In 2013 it was once again the students and faculty who worked together to get the president to revise those policies to meet the growing need for climate action. Finally, in 2019, a year of student-led climate protests forced President Sands to update the Climate Action Commitment to meet the existential threat of climate change. While Sands has said that this is one of the greatest challenges of our time and has advanced a strong set of climate policies, he has excluded students from any public messaging or due credit.
As the university doggedly pursues the Times Higher Ed impact rating it is worth reminding the administration who is responsible for our impressive 5th in the United States standing. It is because of the Climate Action Commitment and by extension the decades long struggle by student and faculty activists to get the university to prioritize climate action that we did so well in the rankings. The categories we were scored on were universally climate categories.
UNITED CAMPUS WORKERS – VIRGINIA TECH
Today, we announce that we are extending Labor Day at Virginia Tech! As the student-workers, staff, and faculty that make this university run, we proudly announce the formation of a labor union, United Campus Workers of Virginia Tech, an affiliate of a statewide campus worker union, UCW-VA (CWA Local 2265). Anyone directly employed by Virginia Tech–full-time staff, part-time staff, tenured and tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty, adjunct instructors, administrative and professional faculty, and student workers–are eligible. And we could not be more proud to make this announcement alongside a union sibling, the Virginia Tech Graduate Labor Union (VT GLU).
There is a proud tradition in this country and in southwest Virginia of workers banding together and taking collective action to improve the conditions of our workplace and community, and we humbly enter into that tradition.
Campus workers at Virginia Tech are also students here. We’re alumni. We’re aunts and uncles to future graduates. We’re parents throwing parties for our kids who have been accepted into graduate programs. We’re the loudest fans at football games, the representatives of Virginia Tech at academic conferences, and the faculty and administrators who stay up to write letters of recommendation out of a commitment that our students receive every possible opportunity.
Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. Virginia Tech students will be served by a democratic campus worker organization that tirelessly advocates for policies and practices that support student success. Our students deserveinstructor-to-student and advisor-to-student ratios that are low enough to allow individualized attention and support. They deserve to be taught by professors and instructors who are fairly compensated and have job security so they can lean on these trusted relationships for the duration of their college experience. VT students are more likely to receive that higher standard of support when our labor union is pushing against austerity and instead demanding robust public funding for state universities in Virginia. A university that can rely on consistent, sufficient public funding can keep tuition low, making the Virginia Tech experience more accessible to students across the Commonwealth and the country.
We believe every campus worker at Virginia Tech deserves a democratic voice, respect, job security, safety, and fair compensation. We want every single Virginia Tech student to know that participating in collective action to advocate for yourself and others is one of the proudest traditions we have here at Virginia Tech. Indeed, it exemplifies ut prosim. Indeed, our partners on this day, VT GLU, already offer an inspiring example of what can be accomplished through collective action. Graduate student workers have been organizing on our campus for respect and a living wage. Their success in winning raises for over 700 graduate student workers is a testament to the power of collective action. They have shared with us that in response to their organizing, campus workers of other classifications have often asked how they can get involved. Our efforts today humbly attempt to offer a response. There is much work to do, but we know that if we can match the commitment and success of the member-leaders of VT GLU, we can achieve transformative changes. We pledge enduring solidarity to VT GLU, and we also join them in expressing solidarity with the carpenters union who have been fighting to receive fair market pay for their work on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg and Northern Virginia campuses.
UCW-VT has been built by VT campus workers pushing for Virginia Tech to honor its highest ideals. Our members have already organized for increased protections for students and workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted the need for expanded disability protection.
We’ve successfully organized to close gender pay gaps in key departments and pushed for solutions that don’t involve layoffs for others. We’ve demanded democratic governance in the face of poorly considered top-down initiatives and held the university to its climate justice pledges. Our members also launched the #DefendVT effort, where over 500 campus workers, students, alums, and parents demanded explanation and course correction on a policy that constitutes a massive expansion of VT’s surveillance capability.
Our efforts, alongside VT-GLU have led to real change for Virginia Tech campus workers. Through a commitment to collective action, solidarity, and democratic workers organization, we know we can achieve even more.
Together, we can build the Virginia Tech we deserve. One where students receive support and an education consistent with a world-class university, regardless of their zip code. Where workers’ and students’ governing roles are honored and shared governance is recognized as necessary and beneficial to the future of Virginia Tech. The Virginia Tech we deserve means a university where we can teach and conduct research under the full protection of academic freedom. We deserve a university free from systemic discrimination along the lines of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, nationality, age, or ability. Indeed, we deserve a university that not only intervenes proactively, but that is preparing a generation of young people to stand up to the forces of systemic oppression.
As a public institution of higher education, and especially as a land-grant institution with the motto of ut prosim, we owe it to our students, their families, and our communities to provide our students with the best possible learning conditions.
Virginia Tech will only reach its full potential when campus workers play a true democratic role in shaping the policies that affect us. We are exercising our rights under federal law and Virginia state code to form a labor union and to do so without retaliation. We invite the university leadership to see the opportunity to view us as committed partners in achieving a Virginia Tech able to fulfill the promise of ut prosim.
WE are Virginia Tech. Onwards together!