Ohio U. Student Workers Demand Union

by Will Klatt  |  June 30, 2015

Ohio U. Student Workers Demand Union Resident Assistants and their supporters rally for better pay and a voice on the job at Ohio University. (Photo: Casi Arnold)

Plagued by poverty wages and soaring tuition costs, hundreds of student workers at Ohio University have banded together to form a union in partnership with AFSCME’s Ohio Council 8 to negotiate for fair pay and gain a voice in setting their working conditions.

In just more than two months, an overwhelming majority of the 257 resident assistants (RAs) at the Athens campus signed membership cards to form a union. Resident assistants live and work in the university’s resident halls, where they provide programming and enforce university safety regulations.

They are the first of many departments that have reached out to AFSCME to express interest in forming a union. Eddie Smith, president of the Graduate Student Senate, noted, “At Ohio University, there are more students on a graduate assistantship performing basic teaching, research or administrative support than there are faculty, administrators or classified staff employees. Hands down we are the biggest and most underrepresented labor force in this university. Unionizing has become a ‘no-brainer’ for us.”

The use of low-wage student workers at Ohio University stands in stark contrast to the university’s decision to buy a $1.2 million mansion for OU’s president while refusing to give student workers a living wage – an issue that came to a head in March when a coalition of more than 400 student workers, professors and AFSCME-affiliated classified staff protested the university’s funding priorities. Watch a video of the demonstration here.

Ohio University’s use of low-wage student workers is not unique. Many public universities have opted to move more work onto nonunionized student workers at the expense of fulltime unionized positions. Raising the RAs’ wages through unionization decreases the incentive of university administrations to use students as low-wage workers, while also bringing hundreds of young workers into the labor movement.

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