Students, workers should unite at rally

Last week, hundreds of law students signed a petition urging University administrators to negotiate a fair contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800, which represents clerical workers at the University.

Law students are a fairly moderate bunch, so the volume of signatures collected was surprising. More astounding, however, was that upon learning the terms of the University’s final offer, students of every political orientation were united in indignation. The petition contains the signatures of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives, liberals, radicals and everyone in between.

This kind of unity is produced only when something offends our most basic intuitions about right and wrong. When Ayn Rand admirers and Marxists can both agree the administration is giving clerical workers the shaft, this is reliable evidence of the justness of the workers’ position.

Three issues are central to the dispute. Two of these – wage increases for seniority and job security provisions – have virtually nothing to do with the University’s so-called budget crisis. So the question arises: If the administration’s final offer was actually produced by fiscal constraints, why is it being so stubborn on these two points? The answer, of course, is that the final offer has little to nothing to do with the budget and everything to do with a sordid managerial ideology rooted in the inane belief that public universities ought to be run like private corporations.

The dispute’s third central issue is health care. The administration’s final offer would require clerical workers – who are among the University’s lowest-paid employees – to pay a significantly higher portion of their health-care costs. This amounts to a massive pay cut. Employees with families (many of the clerical workers are single mothers) would be hit particularly hard; some would be asked to pay almost $2,000 extra per year. Imagine having young children and being forced to decide whether to take them to the doctor or buy them new winter coats.

This is unconscionable. Surely the administration could rein in some capital expenditures and ask well-compensated employees to pay a bit more for their health insurance. The money already exists, it just needs to be budgeted ethically.

The administration thinks it can sucker students into opposing a clerical workers’ strike by scaring us with the prospect of huge tuition increases. In reality, students and clerical workers have identical interests: We are both sharing a disproportionate amount of the “pain” resulting from the University’s shrinking budget. Tomorrow at noon, outside Coffman Union, the clerical workers are having a rally. This is the students’ opportunity to draw a line in the sand and stand up to the administration.

Nick Woomer is a second-year law student. He welcomes comments at [email protected]