Supporting Workers at Amazon, its Affiliates

The Solidarity with Amazon Workers Rally

Members of Local 965 joined with area progressives March 20 to support workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon facilities to join a union to boost their wages to that of similar workers in the area and to improve work conditions.

  • Red-shirted 965 members Hershel Hartford, Bret Schulte, Mike Pierce, Tricia Starks and Geoff Brock await Ted Swedenburg to shoot a photo at the Solidarity with Amazon Workers rally March 20, 2021, outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market.
  • Hershel Hartford, Bret Schulte, Geoff Brock, Ted Swedenburg and Ben Pollock discuss Local 965 business at the Solidarity with Amazon Workers rally March 20, 2021, outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market.
  • Red-shirted 965 members Ben Pollock, Tricia Starks and Geoff Brock join the Solidarity with Amazon Workers rally March 20, 2021, outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market.
  • Mike Pierce, Bret Schulte and Tricia Starks hold the Local 965 banner at the Solidarity with Amazon Workers rally March 20, 2021, outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market.

Announcement of rally, March 19, 2021

We of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 decided at our monthly membership meeting March 18 to actively support union organizing efforts at the Amazon facilities in Bessemer, Alabama. Specifically, we are asking our members and supporters to attend — safely, with masks and social-distancing — a rally outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market 1:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20, 2021. March 20 will also represent U.N. World Day Against Racism.

We suggest that you don your red 965 T-shirt if you have one, otherwise any red shirt, for a bit of visual solidarity. The local event’s organizers created a Facebook event with details. The national facilitator is Support Alabama Amazon Union.

For background information, “Amazon, Union Battle for Undecided Workers in High-Stakes Vote” from the Voice of America is pretty comprehensive with no paywall.

This is Collective Action.

Contact Legislators to Block Stifling of Public Employee Unions

Updates: Tuesday and Wednesday, March 9-10, 2021

A new bill in the Arkansas Legislature threatens to choke public employee unions. We must rally by calling representatives to oppose it.

Senate Bill 341 of 2021 (PDF of draft) allows the termination of any state employee who engages in any labor activity while making collective bargaining illegal for those employees in Arkansas. That would include University of Arkansas faculty and staff.

It passed in a Senate floor vote Tuesday afternoon 24-6 (with 3 not voting, 1 voting present and 1 excused). It cleared committee with a unanimous vote Monday. 

The debate is detailed at the Wednesday article “Senate OKs Union Restriction – Public-Employee Collective Bargaining Ban Goes to House” in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (possible subscription firewall). (Monitor progress of bill.)

Later Tuesday, the state House sent the bill to its Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor for deliberation.

Our lobbyists in Little Rock are fighting this, but we need you to contact legislators to oppose Sen. Bob Ballinger’s bill. It is sponsored in the House by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville.

From the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s reportage Tuesday (subject to subscription firewall, alternate edition): 

“They can have a union. They have their association, but as far as collective bargaining, we are prohibiting it from a policy standpoint as a state.”

Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark

We advise calling or emailing your own district representative immediately. Find your rep’s name and district by entering your home’s street address. This will provide you contact information.

(For future reference, ID your state senator and Senate district number with your address at Senator Search.)

Update March 23, 2021 — The Arkansas House passed SB 341 on March 22, 62-22. “Gov. Asa Hutchinson said through a spokeswoman Monday that he would sign the bill in its current form if it reaches his desk,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in “House OKs Bill to Bar Collective Bargaining.” Only one House member spoke against the bill on the floor.

UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 enjoys clear and cordial relations with the university’s administration as well as with the overall U of A System. Arkansas already has sufficient if not stringent laws governing organized labor. The potential and the implications of this unneeded proposed legislation, however, are enormous for public employees and the students and citizens whom they serve.

“Educators should be respected, not attacked.”

Tracey-Ann Nelson, executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, quoted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

According to the newspaper, Nelson told the Senate committee Monday that SB 341 “directly targets our educators who have shown up every single day at schools and in every way possible teaching students, transporting them and serving them meals since the beginning of the pandemic, knowing they are putting themselves and their families at risk.”

Local Endorses Living Wage for Graduate Assistants

A News Release

The union for employees of the University of Arkansas has endorsed the graduate-assistant fight for a living wage of $20,000 per year.

“Our graduate students simply cannot afford to work for the wages the university is paying,” said Local 965 President Bret Schulte. “Many were working second jobs and relying on food pantries before the pandemic hit. Now, their second jobs are gone. The situation is desperate. Our grad students teach thousands of students each semester; they should be paid what they are worth to the university.

“The grad assistant current minimum wage at the Fayetteville campus is $12,500 per nine-month contract and $15,000 per 12-month contract.” Schulte is an associate professor of journalism.

Meeting online Jan. 21, the UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 unanimously approved the resolution, to be presented to the UA Faculty Senate for its consideration.


Update Wednesday, March 10, 2021 — The Faculty Senate approved the Graduate Student Stipend Resolution, as revised (PDF), at its regular meeting today.

Update Thursday, March 11, 2021 — The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the meeting at “Faculty Group Backs Pay Bump for Grad Students — But Vote Sets No Action at UA” with an alternate link that might avoid the subscription paywall.

Update Tuesday, May 4, 2021 — The U of A news services reports “University to Increase Graduate Assistant Minimum Stipends.”
About which Schulte wrote on Facebook: “After the UA agreed to a Living Wage for all employees, the Local 965 turned its attention toward fair pay for our graduate students, who are eating from food banks and suffering from the stress of living in poverty while they study and work. The pandemic made everything worse by shutting down many of their second jobs. We worked with grad students to lobby and protest for higher stipends. We wrote a resolution calling for $20K per year for all grad students campus wide that we shepherded through the UA Faculty Senate by a wide margin. Today, we can say we’re pleased that the U of A is raising stipends for our all teaching and research assistants. It’s not enough, but it’s a start. We’ll keep fighting. Many thanks to all the graduate students who worked for this, and thanks to Local 965 Vice-President Mike Pierce for his hard work writing the resolution we passed and presented to the Provost.”
And Pierce wrote on Facebook: “Really happy to see progress on Graduate Student stipends here at the University of Arkansas. The University is moving in the right direction, 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.”


The document was drafted by 965 Vice President Mike Pierce, an associate professor of history.

Pierce’s resolution notes that the UA’s own graduate school estimates the cost of living in Fayetteville as far above the stipend level. According to the UA, the typical graduate student has monthly expenses of $1,895. The current monthly minimum pay calculates out to $1,250 for a 12-month contract and $1,389 for a nine-month contract.

“Even by the university’s own standards, our graduate students are not making enough money to live in Fayetteville,” Pierce said. 

According to research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, meanwhile, a single person working in Washington County needs $22,339.20 a year to live independently, that is without food assistance or other government programs. 

Pierce noted that a higher minimum wage also will attract higher quality graduate students, who in turn teach a number of undergraduate classes or assist in vital research.

Grad assistantships are defined as a half-time job of about 20 hours a week, of teaching or research, while the students are completing their degrees.

English TAs Feel Pandemic Pressure

An online petition drive was begun Tuesday, Dec. 15, to challenge the monetary incentivizing of graduate teaching assistants to conduct in-person classes in English composition this spring semester. The message notes the vulnerability of the part-time instructors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

[Update: The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 17 gives further details in “UA’s Pandemic Teaching Incentive Criticized” (possible paywall on link)]

The UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 supports graduate students being treated fairly and respectfully. It wrote the university’s CEO on their behalf:

A letter to University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph E. Steinmetz from the campus labor union

Dec. 16, 2020

Dear Chancellor Steinmetz,

The UA-Fayetteville Education Association stands with the many graduate students in opposing the recent attempt to increase face-to-face instruction on campus as the COVID pandemic rages at a quickening pace, killing more than 3,000 Arkansans and more than 300,000 Americans to date.

In spite of the university’s recent efforts, our graduate students are tragically underpaid. Many take on second jobs to make ends meet, only to have lost them to the pandemic. Many are now at risk of becoming homeless; they increasingly rely on food pantries.

Logo for the Department of English, Fulbright College

On Tuesday, however, it appeared the university is attempting to take advantage of this desperation as part of a broader effort to appease those who want the university to ignore or minimize the pandemic. Grad students in the English department were offered an additional $4000 per class to teach face to face in the Spring semester.

The University has made it clear that it feels pressure from forces in Little Rock to teach half of its classes face to face next semester. However, students are not demanding it. In fact, faculty have seen students drift away from face-to-face instruction since campus re-opened in August. Furthermore, the Associated Student Government passed a resolution in November asking administrators to stop a policy that would allow faculty to force attendance in face-to-face classes.

We know the university wants to do right by its employees — as proven by the Chancellor’s recent commitment to a Living Wage — but it must stand firm to prioritize safety. Rather, this incentive for face-to-face teaching offers a Faustian bargain to our most economically vulnerable employees — asking them to risk their health to pay the bills.

The offer to English graduate students said this bonus would come from federal dollars. That means federal dollars are being used to fulfill a political rather than educational goal of the university.

We respectfully ask the university to change its goals: Use the money to help graduate students, period. They shouldn’t have to risk their lives for it. Let us be mindful of the lessons we are teaching.

Sincerely,

Local 965

Bret Schulte, President
Michael Pierce, Vice President
Hershel Hartford, Treasurer
Ben Pollock, Secretary
Ted Swedenburg, officer at-large
Mohja Kahf, member
Geffrey Davis, member
Geoff Brock, member
Padma Viswanathan, member
Mohja Kahf, member
Lissette Lopez Szwydky-Davis, member
Cynthia Nance, member
Joshua Smith, member

Graduate Students

Ali Hintz, 965 member
Josh Luckenbach, 965 member
Emily Aguayo
Gracie Bain
Melody Berry
Samm Binns
Dana Blair
Chris Borntrager
Sarah Browning
David Brunson
Lily C. Buday
Olivia Cash 
Gabrielle Causey
Ryan Chamberlain
Jackie Chicalese
Bethany Cole
Erin Daugherty
Katherine Davis
Alysandra Dutton
Tiffany Elder
Kristin Entler
CD Eskilson
Kristen Figgins
Conor Flannery
Ali Geren
Jesse Greenhill
Rome Hernández Morgan
Dylan Hopper
Tyler Houston
Victoria Hudson
Sarah Hurst 
Emma Jones
Olivia Jorgensen

Scot Langland
Peter Mason
Miranda McClung
Landon McGee
Mackenzie McGee
Elizabeth Muscari
Jami Padgett
Martha Pearce
Angelena Pierce
Remy Pincumbe
Caitlin Plante
John Plavcan
Katherine Powell
Shalini Rana
Bailey Rhodes
Nicole Rikard
Ann Riley-Adams
Andrea L. Rogers
Sharla Rosenbaum
Vasantha Sambamurti 
Cade Scott
Audrey Scrafford 
Lucy Shapiro
Devin Shepherd
Lauren Shively
Eden Shulman
Mitchell Simpson
Mar Stratford
Tessa Swehla
Hiba Tahir
Sidney Thomas
Emma Van Dyke
Emma Williams
Kait Yates

Later on Dec. 16

Bret,

Thanks for the note. I have copied [Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs] Charles Robinson for his response. I was not aware that this kind of incentive was being offered until I saw it earlier today. Also, I am not sure what federal funds are being referenced for use. I believe Charles can clarify.

Best,
Joe

Joseph E. Steinmetz
Chancellor
University of Arkansas

Union Thanks UA Chancellor for Initiating Living Wage for Campus Employees

News Statement
For immediate release — For more information
Local President Bret Schulte

Sundial southwest of Old Main.
Sundial southwest of Old Main
Credit University of Arkansas

Chancellor Joe Steinmetz of the University of Arkansas today, July 13, announced the phasing in of a Living Wage for U of A employees, sought for over two years by the union representing its faculty and staff.  

In 2018, the Local 965 launched its Living Wage campaign, gathering more than 700 signatures in support of higher wages 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, president of UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965. “We believe this decision shows the power of coming together and magnifying our voices until we are heard.”

Unfortunately, the chancellor’s plan does nothing for the many graduate students on 9-month appointments who are working for poverty level wages.

“The plan only offers a hope of a raise for those few graduate students who are on 12-month appointments and leaves the bulk of our TAs out in the cold at a time when the economy is cratering and teaching opportunities are uncertain,” Schulte said. “We will continue to fight on behalf of our graduate students and for stronger, more equitable and more competitive University of Arkansas.”

The national pay campaign is based on the Living Wage calculation, the least income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs, higher than a subsistence wage rate and the federal and state minimum wage laws. 

The Fayetteville campus would eventually see a minimum salary of $30,000 a year for full-time employees and $15,000 for TAs, who work half time, generally teaching undergraduates, according to a June 10 announcement from Steinmetz.   

In June, the local helped graduate students write and launch a petition for higher stipends that garnered hundreds of signatures and media coverage, Schulte said.

“The university told employees for decades that it had no control over wages for classified staff, abdicating responsibility for poverty-level wages,” Schulte said. “Classified employees generally earn hourly wages and work as non-teaching staff. Rather than paying employees a fair wage, the university opened a food pantry on campus. For the last two years, we have argued that UA employees deserve better. Those voices have been heard, and answered.”

“Today’s announcement shows what is possible when we have a union. The Local 965 thanks everyone who signed its petitions and thanks Chancellor Joe Steinmetz for his commitment to investing in the people that make the University of Arkansas work. He has done what past chancellors dismissed as impossible. We are proud of our university, proud of our community. We will continue to work to build a prosperous, uncompromising and exceptional University of Arkansas.”

Schulte is an associate professor of journalism. Local 965 is an affiliate of the Arkansas Education Association/National Education Association.

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