In a press conference held Monday at the Plaza of the Americas, staff members from departments across the university announced the formation of the United Campus Workers of Florida, the first union of its kind in the state.
UCW-UF is a wall-to-wall union covering university workers from staff members to adjunct faculty. At the conference, which was also live streamed on social media, union representatives called for a collective voice to fight for better wages and benefits.
The union asked the university administration to stay neutral during the formation process.
UF declined to comment on the union’s formation as of Monday.
Kestrel Ward, a library associate, said she was one of the first people to sign up. She believes unions are what make a successful workforce.
“We want to be included in the decision-making process, because right now, the administration is making decisions that are affecting all of us and our lives and our health and our safety and our happiness,” Ward said.
She said the union will focus on fairness and equity in the hiring process and providing a living wage for all campus workers.
“A top-five university needs a top-five union to protect the workers,” Ward said.
Joshua Ney, an IT manager at UF, has been working at the university for 27 years. He said he was tired of broken promises.
“I feel like campus workers need a say in how the university’s run,” Ney said.
Alachua County Commission Chairwoman Marihelen Wheeler, Alachua School Board Vice-Chair Tina Certain and Gainesville City Commissioner Harvey Ward all spoke at the conference.
Wheeler said the partnership between the university and Alachua County is not as strong as it should be, but she fully supports the formation of the union.
“I want you to know, too, that while you’re on this campus, you may work or be a part of the university community here. But you are still a part of our community as well, the greater community,” Wheeler said.
Certain said while she has never been a part of a union, she supports the university staff. She hopes to see positive changes at the university, including better pay, better work conditions and better benefits.
“I come today and I stand in solidarity with you, and I join you as you raise your voices. I want to encourage you that there is power in collective action,” Certain said.
Ward said the union hopes to get as many members as they can, and they are holding an open meeting Saturday to begin discussing their goals. She said their next step is to hold elections and eventually start negotiations with the university.
“To the administration, I would just say that we’re the ones who are doing the work, so you need to listen to our voices, because we know what we need and how to go about it,” Ward said.
Contact Eve Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evealanaa.
Eve Thompson is a third-year journalism major covering Santa Fe. In the past, Eve was a News Assistant on the university desk. When she’s not submitting public records requests or staring at a blank Google doc, Eve can be found on a boat, usually listening to 70s music.