Even in Georgia: Unilateral wage cut rollout leads univ. workers to launch union drive

ATHENS, Ga.—Even in the heart of deep-red Georgia, an employer’s unilateral wage cut – in this case a botched wage change by the University of Georgia at Athens — has led its support staffers to consider unionizing with the Communications Workers.

It was such a mess, especially around the holiday season last year, that workers got “only half a month’s pay from what they expected.” And they wouldn’t get the other half until they quit, retire or become managers. The lowest-paid workers got hit the hardest.

“The rollout was worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge,” said the United Campus Workers, the CWA affiliate running the organizing drive both there and at universities in Tennessee. The university has 3,000 support staffers.

The Georgia mobilization is in line with similar unionization drives by CWA, the Teachers, the Service Employees and the Auto Workers, among low-paid workers at college campuses nationwide. And those adjunct professors, support staff – as in Georgia – and RAs and TAs are among them, and are part of the nationwide movement of low-paid workers led by the Fight for $15 and a union movement.

The problem that prompted the union drive started a year ago, when the GOP-dominated state legislature changed the university’s payroll system.

“Thousands of UGA workers headed into the 2016 holiday season short half a month’s pay from what they had expected. They were told this was necessary due to a chain of necessity: The U.S. Labor Department mandated they be eligible for overtime. Georgia state law requires overtime-eligible employees be paid at least twice a month,” the union explained.

Federal policy “insists such a pay schedule can only be done via hourly pay” but the university’s “antiquated payroll system requires a delay of eight full days to process biweekly paychecks.”

That left the workers stuck with no pay – and with their bills. The university staff had one rep on the team working on the mess, but he was overwhelmed by management “platitudes, absurdities, double-talk and indifference,” the union added.

“Where was the political will to press the Board of Regents and the Georgia legislature for a revision of payroll rules?” the union asked. Since it wasn’t – and isn’t – there, the workers are turning to the union instead.

“Staff felt powerless and voiceless. Workers were afraid of reprisals or belittlement if they tried to air their feelings, suffering for rules that were never adequately explained, paying for mistakes made by the powerful.

“Let’s create a forum where all voices are heard and respected. We at United Campus Workers of Georgia are striving to create a forum where all voices are heard and respect-ted. We envision a broad alliance reaching every sector of the UGA workforce and call on all employees at UGA to band together to fight for the working conditions of all on campus.”

Source: PAI