The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


USM workers fight for better conditions

Photo by Jon Tyson on

The United Campus Workers of Mississippi recently held a “Lunchtime Meet and Greet” event in the Student Union at the University of Southern Mississippi. The labor union, with chapters in Hattiesburg, Oxford, and Starkville, is advocating for higher pay, greater transparency, and harassment-free workplaces for university employees.

“Be the change you want to see,” read posters at the event, calling on campus workers to join the fight for improved working conditions and wages. “Learn more about your union. Join the fight for a living wage.”

“It is very clear that employees need a stronger voice on campus,” said Michael Forster, professor emeritus of social work at USM who helped bring UCW to the Southern Miss campus. “All of our employees are underpaid considerably, according to Southeastern average pay. Many of our hourly employees are working far below a living wage. So, the primary focus of the union right now is to advocate for a living wage for all of the employees.”

The state of Mississippi’s minimum wage, subject to the federal minimum wage, is $7.25 per hour. Last adjusted in 2009, the US has gone through several changes including three presidential changes, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and more in the last 15 years. Housing and food options have increased in price significantly. What has remained stagnant is the living wage. With record high inflation rates in the last years, the economy is still suffering and so are the people of Mississippi.

A key demand is raising the minimum wage for university workers.

“Salaries and hourly wages across campus are well below other SEC institutions,” a United Campus Workers of Mississippi statement says. “We advocate for regular, university-wide cost-of-living pay raises, in addition to increasing the minimum wage so that all workers may live with dignity.”

The group has also filed a Freedom of Information Act request to gather data on pay scales, job titles, promotions, and overtime policies across the university. They seek greater transparency around compensation practices.

“Many of our hourly employees are working far below a living wage,” Forster added. “So, the primary focus of the union right now is to advocate for a living wage for all of the employees. The focus right now is on the grossly underpaid hourly employees, in particular. Beyond that, there is an interest in the usual things that unions are concerned about – the working conditions that people have, the pay that they’re receiving for the work they do, having the voice in shaping the working conditions under which they do work for the campus.”

In addition to better pay, United Campus Workers is calling for a harassment-free workplace environment. The union reports receiving accounts of workplace harassment by managers toward staff and faculty.

“Our most pressing issue right now is the living wage, which is why we are pushing our campaign so heavily right now,” said Emilee Kinney, a graduate teaching assistant pursuing her Ph.D. and a graduate fellow for the union. “We’re also interested in making healthcare more affordable, [ensuring] people who are experiencing harassment have somewhere to go, people to talk to and be on their side.”

“The university is essentially a community of students and employees,” Forster said. “We want to take good care of our students, but in order to do that we have to take decent care of all our workers, no matter what their role is on campus.”

With a motto of “Be the change you want to see,” the UCW is urging more campus employees to get involved in their effort to secure improved working conditions and quality of life for university workers.

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