University of Virginia employees have formed a new union and launched a campaign Monday centered around moving the school’s current hybrid instruction model to a fully virtual fall semester.
The union, United Campus Workers of Virginia (UCW-VA), is composed of undergraduate and graduate student workers as well as university faculty and staff, according to a press release about the union and campaign.
“[The union] just came out of frustration from employees of the university with the way the school was moving ahead without soliciting well rounded feedback from its workers, from faculty, from graduate [teaching assistants], from staff members,” said Crystal Luo, a graduate student and UCW-VA steering committee member, in an interview with The Virginia Star. “As the summer has gone on and then fall semester is getting ready to start I think that concerns have only become more acute.”
The union’s inaugural campaign called ActFASTUVA demands that the university of Virginia (UVA) switch to fully virtual classes and cancel student move-in, and incorporate the already existing efforts of activism at and around the university of Virginia, according to the release.
The release also mentions a growing concern about the lack of transparency and unclear priorities from the school’s administrative leadership and a reliance on self-governance from students to avoid a Covid-19 outbreak.
“The campaign is working for making this a safe semester for everyone in Charlottesville,” Luo said. “So, it’s not just about making sure undergraduates have an on-the-ground experience and it’s not just about making sure administrators at UVA get to pocket tuition, this is about making sure that people who work for the university and who live next to the university are protected, and that means moving classes online and making sure that students go home safely.”
Other groups cited in the campaign include UVA’s black student alliance, the young democratic socialists of america, and defund the Charlottesville police department, among others, according to the release.
University of Virginia officials did not respond to a request for comment from The Star.
UVA employs 28,000 people, according to its human resources webpage.
Luo would not give specific membership numbers or a breakdown of the union between students, faculty and staff, but did say that they have reached a certain threshold for official chartering with UCW-VA.
Virginia state law prohibits UVA from recognizing the union, but does not bar the employees from unionizing, however.
“I think a lot about what UVA’s actions would have been like at the start of the pandemic if we had a strong union presence representing workers’ interests all across grounds. I want to help build that vision and stand together when confronted with future issues,” said Evan Brown, a graduate student and UCW-VA steering committee member, according to the press release.
When asked if switching to a virtual semester would result in union members losing their jobs, Luo said that the campaign is calling upon the university to use its nine billion endowment, with two billion already tapped for Covid-19 issues as part of a strategic investment fund, according to Luo, to make sure that no UVA employee loses their job during the pandemic.
“I’m deeply hopeful that as long as the community rallies around this very simple ask for the university to move online that it will be successful because, ultimately, there is no amount of on-the-ground experience that is worth people losing their health and potentially their lives.”
Classes resume tomorrow online with a move-in date set for two weeks from Tuesday, Luo said.
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