Union panel calls for fair pay

This article was originally published in Kentucky Kernel on Apr 22, 2021

Student Worker Advocacy hosted a panel for students at the amphitheater behind Memorial Hall on April 22 for students to hear testimonials from four UK-affiliated employees and students or former students. This panel mainly focused on advocating for fair pay.

Residential advisor Avery Smith, custodial employee Donald Moore, former student and current lead United Campus Workers organizer Zeke Perkins and graduate student and teacher’s assistant Taylor Armstrong made up the panel. The event was moderated by SWAY founding member and UCW head steward of undergraduates Mary Sherman.

Perkins said that UK has the funds to pay their workers more, but they choose to spend it on other things.

“They gained, I think, over $300 million in net position. And this is while they’re pretending that this, you know, crisis has put them in a place where they have to cut jobs, and it’s not true,” Perkins. Said.

“They can continue to fundraise like they always do-- that’s of course part of our institution-- but I think there has to be an understanding that there is money there, they’re just choosing to spend it in the places that those 10 admin prioritize,” Sherman said.

“I think that they’re really unfair when it comes to wages around here,” said Moore.

Smith expressed that she cannot afford daily expenses because she gets paid $7.25 an hour working as an RA. She said that her reason for attending UK in the first place was because tuition was cheaper than other options and the thing keeping her here is the friendships she has developed at UK.

All panelists expressed that their pay and lack of benefits made it difficult to pay daily expenses and handle unforeseen circumstances that may arise.

When asked what her role would look like if she had a voice and sustainable pay, Armstrong responded that it would involve respect and recognition for her efforts.

“There are unknown variables at play in everybody’s lives and those can be a huge emotional drain—a drain on your time, a drain on your ability to perform at work-- but if work is helping you through that financially, if they’re compensating you for what you’re being valued at, I think that that really would speak volumes, and that’s what it would look like to me. Just respect,” Armstrong said.

“I feel strong about the union because I believe in unity. With unity, things can happen,” Moore said.

Donald has been working for UK for 19 years and said that he is paid under $15 an hour.

“Take back your university. Let your voice be heard,” said Armstrong.

The UCW is pushing for a $15 baseline pay for UK workers as one of its many calls for action from the university this year.