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Coalition of University of Arizona workers moves to unionize
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Coalition of University of Arizona workers moves to unionize

University of Arizona campus

The University of Arizona is No. 241 out of 500 on Forbes’ “Best Employers For Diversity” list. The university is one of only 30 educational institutions to earn the recognition.

A University of Arizona campus coalition says it is moving forward with plans to form a union in response to furlough and reopening plans actions taken by the administration during the pandemic.

There’s been unsuccessful attempts to work with the administration regarding reentry and furlough plans throughout the spring and summer, says the Coalition for Academic Justice, consisting of more than 500 group of staff, student and faculty employees.

Their unionization plans were confirmed July 30, after 96% of the organization’s voters favored moving forward.

The coalition that formed in April says it will create a “wall-to-wall” union for staff, graduate students and faculty.

“The campus community at the UA will be backed by a permanent organization that collectively and publicly defends the values of our land grant university, with its public mission to educate more than 40,000 students, to use knowledge for the public good, and to treat its employees respectfully and collaboratively,” the coalition said.

The union will organize as a branch of the United Campus Workers in association with the Communications Workers of America, which claims it represents 700,000 workers in private and public sector employment.

The UA administration’s furlough plan was to go into effect Monday, leading to pay cuts for workers making $44,500 or more.

There have already been more than 280 layoffs and non-renewals, according to the coalition. The organization hoped to delay the plan until Sept.8 as they searched for alternatives.

“Thirty percent of staff are very worried about losing their jobs. This has created enormous stress during the pandemic,” said Carol Brochin, associate professor in the College of Education, noting that staff make up a majority of workers on campus.

Brochin added: “They are afraid they’ll lose benefits like health insurance. Less than a quarter of the staff are satisfied with our current furlough plan, and 25% will likely seek new employment if the furlough plan is implemented.”

The coalition is continuing to call for a slower approach to campus reentry plans after the administration announced that by Sept. 8, they hope to have — at peak periods — 25,000 to 30,000 people on campus during the week.

“Introducing thousands of people into the close proximity that is the reality of campus life is to force all of Tucson to be exposed,” Kat Rodriguez, an alumnus of the University of Arizona and spouse of a UA employee, wrote in a statement.

The recent purchase of for-profit Ashford University has brought additional concerns from the coalition. The UA will create a separate, online entity called University of Arizona Global Campus.

“It is clear that faculty are extremely concerned about the consequences of this new campus and agreement, and they are dismayed that only an elite group of faculty and a handful of staff were consulted about the venture,” the coalition said.

The administration said the use of non-disclosure agreements prevented leaks of information from occurring that could have disrupted the deal.

During a news conference Thursday, President Robert Robbins said he supports the coalition’s decision.

“I support the faculty to have self determination, and if they think unionization is the way they want to go, I fully support whatever the faculty choose to do,” Robbins said.

It’ll take at least 50 members to get the group formed, according to the coalition.

“There is no time like the present for a union to defend the future of higher education in Arizona. Our organization unites the campus community together around our shared values and mission,” the coalition said.

However, the Arizona Board of Regents’ policy states: “The Board does not oppose labor organization membership of employees as such membership is their right and in no way affects their employment relationship, but the Board, as a public employer … does not have legal authority to recognize a labor organization as the employees’ agent for purposes of collective bargaining.”

Still the coalition says it stands ready to support a “broad-based group” across the campus.

“In solidarity with other academic unions across the nation, we stand ready to struggle for inclusive and democratic academic justice in our communities in Arizona. Our students, faculty, families, workers and community deserve nothing less,” the coalition said.

Historical photos of the University of Arizona:

Contact Star reporter Shaq Davis at 573-4218 or On Twitter: @ShaqDavis1

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