University of Colorado Boulder’s grassroots graduate student union this week voted to dissolve and transfer assets to a new chapter of the Communication Workers of America, a 700,000-member national union, in an effort to represent university employees across the entire university system.
The former graduate student union, the Committee on Rights and Compensation, had approximately 420 members at the time of the vote, said organizer Tanya Roussy. Of that, 160 people cast ballots, with 146 voting in favor and 14 voting against.
The vote dissolved the CRC and transferred its assets to the newly-formed United Campus Workers of Colorado, or CWA Local 7799. So far, 70 people have joined the new union.
“There are a lot of workers in the CU system who are not being treated fairly and who need someone to fight for them to have better working conditions,” Roussy said. “Now we’re able to fight for the most marginalized workers and make the workplace better for everyone at CU.”
The vote comes amid looming budget cuts and the possibility of furloughs, pay cuts and layoffs across the university system as the coronavirus pandemic causes a sharp drop in revenue and state funding predictions.
In a statement, CU Boulder spokeswoman Deborah Mendez Wilson said campus leaders will continue collaborating with shared governance groups, including the Boulder Faculty Assembly, Staff Council, United Government of Graduate Student and University of Colorado Student Government, to meet “unparalleled demands” due to the pandemic.
“Our focus has and will continue to be on sustaining and supporting our students, faculty and staff, particularly during this challenging time,” Wilson said.
UCWC organizer Peter Shaffery said he respects shared governance groups and they do a lot of good, but they may not be the best avenue to meet the needs of workers.
“People are committed and there is an appetite for unionization among graduate workers and other employees,” Shaffery said. “It’s very exciting to see this energy taken to the next level.”
CU Boulder did not recognize the graduate student union, which was formed in 2016, and Shaffery said he would not be surprised if campus leaders do not recognize the new union.
On Monday, UCWC leaders wrote an open letter to the system’s Board of Regents asking for job protections and for budget cuts to start with the salaries of top administrators.
The regents have not received a copy of the letter, said system spokesman Ken McConnellogue, and each campus has ways for different groups to engage in “constructive dialogue” with leaders.
“I am not aware of them availing themselves of those,” McConnellogue said.
The union is waiting to get additional signatures of support for the open letter before formally submitting it to the system, Roussy said. The UCWC’s next steps include raising awareness and hearing from different employee groups about what issues are important to them, she added.
The union has already heard from employees on the Anschutz Medical Campus who are frustrated by pay cuts and want more protection from exposure to coronavirus, she said.
“There’s real power in solidarity, and the regents and all the top paid people at CU need us much more than we will ever need them,” Roussy said. “We make this university.”