New union rallies at Murray State

Berry Craig
Berry Craig

About 30 people rallied with the new United Campus Workers of Kentucky union at Murray State University Monday afternoon.

“I would have never imagined in a million years this thing we're doing happening, because there were people before me who tried to start unions,” said Dr. David Pizzo, a history professor who is helping organize a UCW chapter at Kentucky’s westernmost public university.

Pizzo and others spoke to faculty, staff, student workers, and supporters outside the Curris Center on campus. He likes the idea of a union that welcomes everybody who is employed at Murray — from custodial and office staff to student workers — not just faculty.

He said Murray State needed a faculty-only union “like we need more holes drilled in our head. ... We’re the most privileged category here.”

The union — officially the UCW of Kentucky—Communication Workers of America Local 3365 — is expanding statewide, numbering about 600 members. Besides Murray, the union has gained a toehold at the University of Kentucky and UK Health Care, the University of Louisville, Eastern Kentucky University, and Morehead State University. UCW members can also be found on some community college campuses.

Typically, college and university administrations aren’t union friendly. But Pizzo said the successful organization of a campus UCW chapter at UK especially gave him hope for Murray.

“We want a union because the needs of students, faculty, and staff are not being met through the current organizational structure that we have here,” said Shelly Baskin, the Murray State institutional review board coordinator. “It’s been very difficult for us to take action to do what’s good for ourselves and our community.”

So far, he and more than three dozen faculty, full-time, and student workers have joined the union.

While the union might not have many friends in the Murray State administration, it got a boost from the Murray State News, the student newspaper. “Without campus workers Murray State would be a shell of an institution,” wrote the news editor. Therefore, workers’ needs should be taken into account and their voices should be heard. Yet at Murray State, workers’ needs are not being met. With  worker retention at jeopardy, the future of Murray State as a credible institution is not certain.

“The  Murray State Chapter of the United Campus Workers of Kentucky has been working toward  improving  campus working conditions. Their demands include: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, increasing salaries according to the cost of living adjustment (COLA), affordable healthcare, support for parents and caregivers, allowing professors to use virtual teaching formats, and respect and safety for all campus workers.”

Zeke Perkins, former UK graduate student worker, is the UCW’s lead state organizer. “We’re really excited,” he said. “We’re only two years old.”

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

More information about the union is available from Perkins via email at zeke@ucw-cwa.org. His cell phone number is 845-217-4137.

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)


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