The LSA Student Government passed a resolution endorsing the unionization of undergraduate student workers on Jan. 26, 2022. The resolution was introduced following increased activism from student workers around increased pay, COVID-19 policies and overall worker safety.
LSA SG plans to work with other campus organizations — including Resident Advisors, M-dining student staff and student researchers — to gauge their interest in forming a union for undergraduate students employed by the University of Michigan.
LSA SG said in the resolution they hope to work with both the Lecturers’ Employee Organization and the Graduate Employees’ Organization to develop the framework for what an effective undergraduate student workers’ union might look like. LSA SG also said they are inviting Central Student Government to collaborate with them to endorse an undergraduate workers’ union and address low wages for students with on-campus jobs.
LSA senior Magda Wojtara, an LSA SG appointed representative and one of the primary authors of the resolution, said the resolution was inspired in part by the bargaining efforts of LEO and GEO, who called upon the University to address workplace grievances such as low wages and health and safety risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wojtara discussed her personal experience as a student employee, which she said also inspired her to consider organizing an undergraduate workers’ union.
“I was really inspired by my own experiences as a student employee, and the conditions that we’ve had, especially over the past year with the COVID-19 pandemic and how we’re treated as employees at this University,” Wojtara said. “I think that that was really my impetus and wanting to improve conditions.”
LSA sophomore Gabriel Ervin, another LSA SG representative who also helped author the resolution, said hosting open meetings for student workers would be essential to determine their concerns once the union is established. Ervin said the card-check policy at the University states if the majority of people at a workplace desire a union, it will be recognized by the University.
“I think it’s really important that we recognize this whole (resolution) is also about dignity,” Ervin said. “We want to establish a precedent that there will be town halls, that the voices of the workers will be listened to and taken into account without fear of retribution.”
In an email to The Michigan Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote the Michigan Public Employment Act ensures employees have the right to form and join labor unions. Labor unions are managed by the Michigan Employee Relations Committee, according to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald wrote the Board of Regents passed a resolution in June 2020 outlining the process for a process for University employees to join a union. The resolution no longer requires a state-sanctioned election for labor unions to be recognized.
“Employee groups that share a community of interest due to similarity in duties, benefits, employment conditions and other factors that can demonstrate a 30% showing of interest among the employee group have the right to petition MERC for an election,” Fitzgerald wrote. “In addition, the U-M Board of Regents has passed a resolution that provides a process for union organization in a situation where an appropriate group of employees can demonstrate that more than 50% of employees in the appropriate group support forming a union. “
LSA sophomore Peter Tam, an LSA SG representative, said the governing body also passed a separate resolution on Jan. 12, which advocates for a $15 minimum wage on campus. Tam said the $15 minimum wage resolution goes hand-in-hand with creating an undergraduate workers’ union since both resolutions aim to foster a supportive work environment for U-M students.
In January, members of the U-M chapter of the Youth Democratic Socialist of America circulated a petition calling on the University to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage for on-campus jobs. As of Feb. 14, the petition has over 560 signatories.
“I came in initially starting off on the $15 minimum wage resolution that the LSA student government passed,” Tam said. “So that was my sort of entry into the unionization (resolution).”
LSA senior Noah Streng, president of the U-M chapter of YDSA, said unionization is one of the best ways to protect workers’ rights.
“I think a big part of this movement for higher wages and unions is not just about restoring material equity to people but also … forming communities where they’ve been destroyed, getting workers to talk to each other who never would have talked to each other and (realizing) that through our collective power, we can transform the world and make it better for everybody on campus,” Streng said.
Daily Staff Reporter Nirali Patel can be reached at email@example.com.