June 13, 2021 — As the 2020-2021 academic year closes, the UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 is seeing record growth after securing historic victories for faculty, staff and students at the University of Arkansas. Collective action led by Local 965 is fundamentally improving the lives of employees at the University of Arkansas by promoting prosperity, equity, transparency and employee choice. As a result, the local has seen membership increase about 60 percent since a revival of interest began in 2017.
Entering the school term, university Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz agreed to meet the demands of the local’s two-year campaign for a “living wage” of a minimum $30,000 a year for all UA employees. The campaign included op-ed commentaries, media appearances, demonstrations and petition gathering at events such as farmers’ markets and UA football games in support of higher wages, all the while supporting the campus food pantry that served food-insecure employees and students.
“This is a long overdue and desperately needed raise for many UA employees,” said Bret Schulte, 965 president. “We believe this decision shows the power of coming together and magnifying our voices until we are heard.”
The work of Local 965 received prominent attention from its parent organization, the National Education Association, the country’s largest union at more than 2 million members. The union’s NEA Today magazine covered the successful Living Wage Campaign strategies deployed by the Local 965, and NEA President Becky Pringle congratulated the Local 965 during her opening address to the 2021 Higher Education Conference, where she offered it as a model of what is possible for NEA locals across the country.
When the chancellor initially declined to offer a pro-rated living wage of $20,000 per 9-month term to graduate teaching and research assistants, the 965 turned its focus to helping the grad students organize by providing funds for promotional material, contributing to strategy sessions and authoring a resolution endorsing the raise. The resolution, written by Local 965 Vice President Mike Pierce, was submitted to the Faculty Senate then overwhelmingly passed in March.
In May, the administration agreed to a raise — another victory as the result of pressure applied by collective action. While the raise from an average of did not reach the threshold of $20k, the UA increased its minimum stipends from $9,387 to $11,250 for the school year. The Local 965 continues to work with graduate students on their fight.
“The university is moving in the right direction,” said Pierce. “but more work needs to be done. $1,500 a month is not enough when the Graduate School’s own data shows that it costs at least $2,100 a month for a single person to live in Fayetteville.”
In the midst of the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests across the country, Pierce, an associate professor of history, brought to the attention of the public the damning history of Gov. Charles Brough for whom a dining hall on campus is named. In a press release soon reposted by the Arkansas Times, Pierce recounted Brough’s role as a cheerleader and and supporter of the what came to be called the Elaine Race Massacre of 1919, in which an estimated 150 to 400 Blacks were killed by white mobs in Phillips County.
Pierce’s report launched the first-ever examination of that governor’s namesake on campus, Brough Commons. When a commission was established to examine the race record of Sen. J. William Fulbright, the university included a review of Gov. Brough. Pierce served on the committee and agreed with its recommendations that the men should not be honored with namesakes on campus. Separately, Pierce’s research on labor and race caught the attention of the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the civil rights leader who cited Pierce by name in the conclusion of the NEA Leadership Summit last spring.
Other accomplishments from the Local 965 this July-through-June fiscal year:
- Local 965 president Bret Schulte introduced two Faculty Senate resolutions to protect worker safety at the UA: One endorsing employee choice for remote work at the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, and the other requesting an air audit of all HVAC systems on campus to ensure they were outfitted with proper MERV-13 filters and increased ventilation. Both resolutions passed.
- Local 965 President Bret Schulte and Mike Pierce worked with LGBTQ groups across campus — including staff, faculty and employees — to create concrete recommendations to make campus a safe and more supportive space for the trans community in the wake of state legislation hostile to their health and well-being. The resolution passed faculty senate overwhelmingly and met a need for such recommendations expressed by UA’s central administration.
- The Local 965 stood in solidarity in March with Amazon workers seeking to unionize in Alabama at a protest outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods, also owned by Amazon.
- The Local 965 organized a campaign to dissuade state legislators from stifling public employee unions that allowed the termination of state employees who engage in labor activity under the umbrella of collective bargaining. The bill, however, passed both chambers and the governor signed it into law.