A group of University of Virginia employees comprised mainly of graduate students want to form a union, reports the Daily Progress. If successful, the workers would be affiliated with the Campus Workers of America.
UVa last year committed to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, so economic issues don’t appear to be at the top of the list. The unionists’ main concern at the moment is safety and health during the COVID-19 virus as students return to the grounds.
“With students coming in, everybody is worried about getting coronavirus,” said Evan Brown, a biology department doctoral student and member of the union steering committee. The group “demands” that the University abandon its hybrid in-person/remote learning model for the fall and cancel undergraduate move-in, according to a statement released two days ago.
But the demands of United Campus Workers-Virginia members extend beyond working conditions. The union also admonishes the administration “to end its relationship with Charlottesville police and cut funding for its own police department as part of its stated mission to address pervasive racial inequality at the University.”
The national union, which has chapters in eight states besides Virginia, touts an agenda that includes gaining benefits such as paid parental leave, policies that address pay inequities and job segregation by race and gender, and free higher education financed through fully funding public higher ed.
Virginia law at present prohibits collective bargaining for state employees. Workers are free to join unions, but state agencies (including public universities) are prohibiting recognizing them and bargaining with them. There has been discussion in the General Assembly about changing that law, and the United Campus Workers told the Daily Progress they hope to pressure UVA officials to support changing the law.
Bacon’s bottom line: As a general rule, people should have the right to join a union and bargain for better wages and working conditions. But that proposition doesn’t work for public employees.
When employees work for Industrial Monolith, Inc., they have to negotiate with corporate management, which represents the interests of shareholders. When employees push, management pushes back, and eventually an equilibrium is reached. By contrast, when employees working for Public University of Virginia negotiate with management, management is not representing the interests of shareholders because there aren’t any shareholders. Management doesn’t even represent the interests of the taxpayers. For the most part, higher-ed management doesn’t give a flying fig for the taxpayers. University management represents only its own interests, and one of those is placating internal constituencies. A very different equilibrium is reached.
Making matters worse, it appears that the United Campus Workers aren’t just looking after themselves. They have a leftist political agenda, as evidenced by the local chapter’s demand to defund the Charlottesville police and the national organization’s push for “free” education — as in, free for them, not for taxpayers. Needless to say, it would be disastrous for the public interest if UVa’s graduate students were given the right to bargain collectively and strike, and if they proceeded to use their power to shut down hundreds of classes in order to advance a political agenda.
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