Today: May 29, 2024

Labor activists speak to students about workers’ rights

Robby Tierstein Contributor

On this past Thursday, there was a meeting orchestrated by the American Union of University Professors to raise awareness of the prevalence of unions among university students.  

Gary Winfield is a staff member at the American Union of University Professors who works in the house, editing, and recall departments.  

“We are the professor’s union on campus, and this is an effort to talk about unionizing, particularly as it relays to get people involved in the union movement,” said Winfield. “Many people who are the leaders here are younger people so it’s a great thing to talk about on a college campus.” 

Whitfield joined the American Union of University Professors largely to help revitalize the cause of unions. 

“In the past couple of decades, unions have not only been what they were in the past as strong,” said Winfield. “There’s been an effort to revitalize the union movement and I think young people need to know that they’re going into the working world and being able to join with other workers and advocate for themselves will be important.” 

“If they don’t know about unions, if they’re not familiar with them, they’re missing out on an opportunity to advocate for themselves,” said Winfield. 

At this past Thursday’s American Union of University Professors meeting at the university, there was a video broadcast from organizers of unions representing Trader Joe’s, Starbucks and Amazon. Workers are demonstrating their right to unionize, by demanding improved safety in the workplace, better hours and raising the minimum wage. 

“Those particular places have been important because it’s kind of an ongoing conversation about work,” said Winfield. “Those places have been where we heard crazy stories about people urinating in bottles etc., so they become pretty important issues.” 

 Linda Cunningham is another worker of the American Union of University Professors who specializes in organizing unions in the university. She is very enthusiastic about getting students interested in unions amidst an ever-growing number of workplace concerns in America.  

“All the faculty are unionized because they’re considered state employees and all state employees are unionized,” said Cunningham. “We manage the collective bargaining agreement and do the collective bargaining agreement for the all the employees that work under the AAUP (American Union of University Professors) contract. 

On behalf of the professors in the American Union of University Professors, Cunningham helped “bargain their contract” which is about working conditions and it’s about salaries, “it’s about them being able to get money for their research, having guarantees for some travel funds, making sure that their course loads, things like that.” 

Thomas Robertson, a junior, was one of the audience attendees at the meeting. His interest in unions stemmed from a curiosity he had about unions while scrolling through Owl Connect. A commuter from the Naugatuck area, Robertson was interested in learning more about unions near the local area. 

“I wanted to be more educated, it might be my background of my hometown, but I haven’t heard anything good about unions,” said Robertson. “You come here at a university like Southern, it gives you some diversity of thought, so I can hear someone give a pro-union perspective because I don’t really know anything about unions.” 

Robertson said he was only familiar with “Amazon and their battle,” only vaguely heard of “the union busting at Starbucks” and “did not know anything about Trader Joe’s” prior to hearing about the American Union of University Professors event. He also was interested in hearing about “the contract that the teacher’s union got to work with.” 

Robertson said that he had a positive experience at the event. 

“The event was really well done. I had some good food, we had a senator here, we had a faculty member here. I liked it,” said Robertson. 

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