UK Students and Campus Workers Call for Fair Pay and a Say at UK During Panel on Workers Experience During COVID-19

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 22, 2021) Today, students and campus workers gathered outside on the University of Kentucky campus today to tell their stories of low pay, poor safety, and a marked lack of respect for the concerns of students and employees at UK. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began over a year ago, University of Kentucky students and employees say they have tried everything to have their voices heard around issues of health, safety and dignity at UK from going directly to their supervisors, to filing complaints through UK’s Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity, to doing call-in days to UK president Eli Capilouto, to marching on UK's campus with signs and megaphones.

Their attempts to be heard have been largely ignored. In fact, students and campus employees argue, the recent unilateral appointment of the interim College of Arts & Sciences dean and the de facto appointment of the new Graduate School dean signal a dangerous consolidation of power into the offices of President Eli Capilouto. Moreover, the students and workers say that it has only been when pushed by collective action and overwhelming public concern that President Eli Capilouto has begrudgingly met the demands of students and workers around health, safety, and dignity for students and employees. For this reason, workers organizing under the banner of United Campus Workers and students under the banner of Student Worker Advocacy say they have decided to launch their We Need a Say at UK: Worker’s Stories campaign this upcoming week. UCW worker leaders say they plan to launch a broader campaign for Fair Pay and a Say at UK starting in Fall 2021 with a comprehensive set of demands and worker actions, but that they first wanted to make sure that the community knew what was happening at UK.

“We just want it to be a safe place to work where workers are respected,” says Ian Harrison, an undergraduate and WildCab Driver, “As a student worker during the pandemic, it’s been frustrating to deal with a lack of respect from upper administrators for our work and a lack of respect for our safety from a small minority of fellow students who we serve as workers.”

Resident Advisors, who work in the dorms on campus, also expressed concern about their safety and treatment during the pandemic. Resident Advisor and UK Junior, Avery Smith, says, “Bottomline is that the pay is too low. We get paid $7.25 for working extra hours at the desk and we didn’t get any extra pay during the pandemic for our usual duties as RAs. We are the ones who have been in the dorms delivering meals to students in quarantine, asking our fellow students to wear their masks in common spaces, supporting underclassmen through this super hard year, and trying to manage ourselves on top of that. I can’t afford groceries on what we get paid. It’s a slap in the face for all the work we do in the residence halls.”

Speaking to a crowd at the Memorial Hall Amphitheater on campus, workers called on all UK employees from faculty to staff to undergraduate and graduate workers to join United Campus Workers of Kentucky. In addition, members of Student Worker Advocacy, called on students to support employees on campus in their demands for fair pay, safety, respect and a democratic UK.

UK PhD student Taylor Armstrong, exhausted by the poverty level stipend stated in her speech to the socially distanced crowd in front of her “When people ask me how I’m doing, I say “fine,” just like every good graduate student does. The reality of “fine” however, is being OK for now, but having zero security. We need fair pay for graduate workers and all employees at UK and together we can get it.”

United Campus Workers of Kentucky (CWA-3365) is an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America. It is a union open to all campus workers in the Commonwealth advocating for a student- and worker-centered college and university system. Student Worker Advocacy (SWAY) works to connect student workers with each other and widen the conversations around labor in the United States.