The Claudia Jones Club of American University and the Young Democratic Socialists of America Chapter held an event to celebrate the success of the AU Staff Union strike in August and promoted solidarity between students and workers September 27.
Speakers at the event, which the Claudia Jones Club and YDSA co-hosted in the official McDowell Hall lounge, praised the work of the more than 550 AU staff represented by Service Employees International Union Local 500 . Staff members staged a five-day strike between August 22 and August 26. demand higher wages and a fair labor contract.
These efforts culminated in an agreement on a contract between the Union and the University administration which included better opportunities for advancement and board increases totaling 5.5% over the next two years, according to an Instagram post from the AU Staff Union.
Aubrey Hill, a system administrator at the AU Career Center who has been involved in the union organizing process since 2019, spoke at the event and said the road to victory has not been easy.
“When you talk about the length of the process and how we got here, it might seem like a lot has happened in the last six months or last year, and that’s definitely the case. “Hill said. “But it’s been built on years and years of organizing among staff and with great support from student organizations.”
In a statement posted to the AU Staff Union’s Instagram during the strike, the staff union said it spent nearly 500 days at the bargaining table with the AU administration before announcing their strike two weeks in advance, to give the University a chance to respond to their request for a pay rise. The University reached a tentative agreement on the fifth and final day of the planned strike.
Hill said the slow bargaining process was helped by student organizations like YDSA who participated in rallies and protests with union staff members. The relationship between students and workers is a critical part of creating change on a college campus, she said.
“The University exists because of the education, because of the students, so it’s just as crucial for the students to build their own power to resist the administration as it is for us,” Hill said. “Only if we do this together will we really make progress.”
Hill said the staff union’s fight for fair treatment reflects a wider problem in higher education.
“This whole situation is a bigger indication of the corporatization of academia and universities,” Hill said. “It indicates that the American university is seen primarily as a business, as opposed to a community with goals and a commitment to the members of that community.”
Eli Pine, senior and vice president of the Claudia Jones Club, said he hopes students will see this victory as motivation to continue to fight for workers’ rights and to demand change from the AU administration. .
“We see anti-worker sentiment building across the world,” Pine said. “When we think about what we can do in our own communities, we have to think about where the power is and where the power is on campus with the administration. So when we think about how to fight these larger movements … then we really have to think about how to confront the administration on campus,” he said.
Rohin Ghosh, a member of YDSA’s leadership team, said the University should ensure that students and employees have “a place at the table” of decision-making.
“This is how we’re really changing what we do as a university, creating a constitution that affects all of us,” Ghosh said.
Hill stressed the importance of receiving continued support from students to maintain the momentum of their victory in the future.
“It’s not about chasing that quick win, it’s about building lasting power and lasting relationships,” Hill said. “That’s what ultimately culminates in the tremendously powerful event that you all witnessed this summer.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sylvia Burwell was to sign the collective agreement. Completed collective agreements are not signed by the rector of the University.