United Campus Workers opens chapter at Southern Miss


John Jester presents his ideas at union office. Photo by John Hollins.

Faculty and staff of Southern Miss have begun to take steps to ensure their own voices are getting heard by the school’s administration with the formation of a union with the United Campus Workers, an organization dedicated to helping create unions across the country, focusing particularly on southern states. 

One of their lead organizers, John Jester, has come to help Southern Miss get a chapter going.

“We have a model calibrated for hostility.” Jester said. “I like to call it a throwback to the way things were. It’s old school organizing, building up a minority of workers who are going to be engaged enough to put pressure on this institution.”

Social work professor Michael Forster, Ph.D, has been working with Jester to get the word out about the chapter forming. Forster spoke about working with UCW at an interest meeting.

“I found out about UCW very directly. There was an article in the Hattiesburg American about UCW organizing Maximus workers. They had a demonstration day with a mock pick-up line. I had no idea there was anybody organizing here in Hattiesburg, so I looked into UCW,” he said during the meeting. 

The attendees consisted mainly of professors and a pair of students .

Other issues addressed at the meeting were pay raises at Southern Miss, especially for those like custodians.  Attendants also discussed the need for flat pay raises instead of percentage or merit-based raises. A major thread throughout the meeting was an overall feeling that employee voices are not being heard by the administration.

“There is a common thread of less involvement, less engagement with the constituents. There used to be all these stupid committees like traffic committees, sign committees, etc. Amazing thing about those committees, though, it was made up of staff and faculty, sometimes students. It meant we got to work collectively. We’ve seen a real erosion of those places where faculty and staff talk,” Andrew Haley, Ph.D., associate professor of history, said.

Currently, UCW is focusing on recruitment to gather a large coalition of professors, faculty, staff and even student workers. Along with the blossoming chapter at Ole Miss, which now has more than 100 members only a year after launch, they hope to go on the offensive and begin some major campaigns advocating for wage increases. 

For Jester and UCW, getting the message of organizing is crucial.

“There’s an old saying,” Jester said. “As the South goes, so goes the country. So we have to change things, ‘cause the country is going the way the South is.”