Skip to main content

Ohio University workers overcome challenges to build power

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
By Ezra Kane-Salafia ·

Staff at Ohio University have overwhelmingly voted to form a union in an election that has been many years in the making.

The new local, which will be part of AFSCME Ohio Council 8, is comprised of administrative, technical and clerical staff in a wide array of roles such as library support, information technology, and many more. The new union is the second AFSCME local at Ohio University, along with the skilled trades, culinary and maintenance Local 1699.

Despite more than 82% of workers voting to form a union through AFSCME, victory was never a sure thing. Staff efforts to form a union go back more than 30 years and have encountered many challenges along the way. Those included workers being spread out across offices and regional campuses in every corner of the state, management’s refusal to voluntarily recognize the union, and a global pandemic sending workers home and forcing organizers to go digital.

Those challenges never stopped committed workers from organizing.

Jacob Jakuszeit, an Ohio University library support associate and a member of the organizing committee, said that despite setbacks, “Years of continuing efforts by workers built a strong foundation for our organizing committee that stretched across all of the offices and all of our campuses.”

Members got involved for many reasons, but the most important were earning respect and being able to have a voice in the decisions made at the university.

“Our work is about more than just a paycheck” Jakuszeit said. “We want to create something that will be better than we left it for those who come after us, and our union will make sure we have a say in that happening. That’s what our collective effort is about.”

Cutbacks, driven by the pandemic, also highlighted the critical need for workers to have a voice on the job.

“The pandemic has caused a lot of belt tightening. Now, with a seat at the table, workers get a say in how that happens,” said Steve Roth, Ohio organizing director. “Many staff have dedicated their lives to this institution, and they’ve come together to demand input on how it will be run, through good times and hard times.”

It’s a point that Lee Saunders, AFSCME president and an Ohio University alumnus, drove home in a video message to the workers ahead of the July 14-28 voting window.  

“During a global pandemic that has thrown our economy into chaos, it is essential that public service workers build power in numbers together,” Saunders said. “[A union] is our best chance to take care of one another and ensure that any sacrifice is shared sacrifice – with high-paid managers and executives also being forced to tighten their belts.”

Jakuszeit said the impact isn’t just dollars and cents, it’s about hope for the more than 450 newly unionized employees. 

“Our victory has really restored hope, restored folks’ faith in our ability to make a difference,” he said. “It’s just the start, but it’s reassuring to know that workers are in a place to expect and demand respect for their work.”

Related Posts