United Campus Workers of Colorado gathered for a walkout demonstration outside of the University Memorial Center Thursday to demand higher cost of living adjustments and increased pay for all classifications of non-tenured professors.
“Our working conditions are student’s learning conditions,” said Jade Kelly, the president of Communications Workers of America Union local sector 7799, which includes UCW, during the protest. UCW is a “wall-to-wall” union organization that represents a broad range of employees in the University of Colorado system.
Kelly also said she has seen colleagues and friends forced to leave their positions due to high costs of living that are not conducive to their wages. The university publishes a position vacancy analysis report, the most recent of which, from the 2021-2022 year, detailed an increase of employees leaving CU and an increase in the total number of vacant positions.
Other speakers discussed their experiences balancing their workload with their wages and bills, as well as how their wages have forced them to work side jobs along with their careers at the university.
“I wore this ridiculously warm suit jacket on these ridiculously hot days because I wanted to hide from my students that I was selling plasma in between my classes to make enough money to feed and house myself and my children,” said Jessica Lawson, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Lawson is one of many workers from across the CU system who says she feels that her work is being compensated with unfair pay, leading employees to take measures, such as selling plasma, to earn more money, often with detrimental effects.
“I want to be abundantly clear: my children — including the one I’m wearing here today because I cannot afford childcare — deserve a mother who is more interested in staying alive and healthy than making it to work on time,” Lawson said.
Other members of UCW echoed Lawson’s call for higher wages to fulfill their basic needs and the needs of their families.
Kristen Oliver, a graduate student and research assistant in physics education, said her rent for her apartment took up roughly 44% of her stipend, which she said made it difficult to make room for other expenses such as her student loans, medical bills and groceries.
The Daily Camera reported in July of 2023 that CU Boulder staff accounted for 46.6% of patrons to CU’s mobile food pantries since August 2022.
“[The university] has gone on a spending spree to keep up with technology and innovation, academic expansion, academic and culture outreach programs, hire administrators and finance experts,” said Sigman Byrd, an associate teaching professor of writing and rhetoric. “But frankly — I’m sad to say — what about the rest of us?”
Byrd shared various statistics concerning renovation costs on CU Boulder’s campus, including the 105.2 million dollar renovation of the Hellems Arts and Sciences building, as a comparison to CU workers’ salaries. Byrd also mentioned Deion Sanders,’ the new Buffs football coach, projected salary over the next five years, which is calculated to be up to 29.5 million dollars, before excluded bonuses.
“[The university] has spent literally billions of dollars on preparing our community for the future, but in the process, the CU administration seems to have forgotten one thing: non-tenure track professors should not be treated as an afterthought,” Byrd said.
Nicole Speer, Boulder councilwoman and mayoral candidate, also spoke at the demonstration. Speer is also employed at CU Boulder as the Director of Operations for the Institute of Cognitive Science.
“The mission is really to get the university to enact policies that benefit workers and really are treating us with dignity,” she said. “And paying us living wages that allow us to do our jobs to the best of our abilities and do what we can to support the missions of the university.”
In a written statement to the CU Independent, CU spokesperson Stacy Wagner wrote, “UCW is not a bargaining unit on campus or university governance group, and we will continue to address employee concerns through our established shared governance groups.”
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