Getting up to Speed: UAW Solidarity Movement on Campus
GAIL JOHNSON & GILLIAN PASLEY
On February 18, as many of us know by now, the CollOn February 18th, the Office of the Oberlin College President wrote an email to the community stating the administration’s intention to formally consider outsourcing work to outside vendors, replacing 108 unionized custodial and dining employees with contracted hourly labor. The UAW (United Auto Workers) Local 2192 comprises the union for Oberlin College custodial and dining employees.
On February 19th at 7:30 AM, a senior administrator presented the college’s intentions to UAW workers at Knowlton Athletic Complex. Many union members were shocked by this sudden announcement--some of them even read about it in the morning paper before they were formally notified. During the meeting, employees voiced dismay at the possibility of losing their Oberlin families and fear for the futures of their families back home.
Later that same day, a general faculty meeting was called to formally announce the administration’s decision. Although this meeting took place less than 24 hours after the initial announcement, more than 800 members of the Oberlin community gathered outside the meeting in King Hall in support of the UAW. Demonstrators were dressed in union red, held signs, and handed out pamphlets call- ing for “UAW in the room.” Chants such as “workers are our family!” and “union busting is disgusting!” echoed through the halls of King. This demonstration made one initial demand: for the general faculty to allow union and student representatives into the room. This motion was approved, and representatives were invited in for the hour-long meeting, during which the administration dis- cussed questions about financial stability and morality of
the College. No decisions or further action occurred during this meeting.
The weekend after the general faculty meeting, stu- dent and community protesters gathered in earnest to begin organizing a strong, unified solidarity movement. The group’s primary goal is to cancel the administration’s plans to lay off 108 UAW workers in favor of outside ven- dors, and to begin an open dialogue with the entire Ober- lin community to address the college’s financial problems beyond the top-down framework of the AAPR/One Ober- lin.On Friday, February 28th, the Administration agreed to open negotiations on the 108 UAW positions currently under threat of elimination. Early on the morning of the 28th, 250 students, faculty, staff, elected officials, and community members gathered in support with the 108 workers, sharing coffee and baked goods donated by local businesses. Protestors marched with union negotiators to their first negotiation meeting with the college, chanting and holding pro-union signs. As demonstrators marched, many cars slowed to read signs and honk in support.
Organizers hope to continue the momentum, in at- tempts to push the administration to consider this de- cision before going any further. The student body and greater Oberlin community have stated that they will continue to fight in solidarity with UAW workers un- til a just contract has been negotiated and their jobs are saved. Between demonstrations, ongoing events like Sun- day’s free solidarity screen printing on shirts and post- ers and Thursday’s community art build have served to keep campus engagement and awareness high. Social media has played a huge role in the movement as well, All photos by Lola Chalmers-Dibbell
as students, alumni, and parents have utilized Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to circulate petitions and power- ful opinion articles. At this time, a student petition has collected 1,044 signatures, and a corresponding alumni petition has collected 2,379. One Oberlin Review Letter to the Editor from Susan L. Phillips, OC ’76, expresses her decision to suspend the Susan Phillips Social Justice Scholarship Fund indefinitely in light of the administra- tion’s decisions. Another, from a small collection of fac- ulty members, voices faculty-union solidarity, and a fear that the administration is abandoning Oberlin’s core val- ues. These raised voices, both on campus and off, have strengthened the opposition to Oberlin’s announcement, which has only grown since February 18th.
Yesterday, Thursday, March 5th at 7:30 pm, another UAW solidarity action was held. In solidarity, the Oberlin Student Senate invited a group of student organizers to present their concerns to the Oberlin Trustees. Addition- ally, the student panel presented the student, alumni, and parent petitions. To support these organizers, and UAW members, a group of students and community members rallied outside of Wilder Hall and marched to The Hotel At Oberlin, where the petitions were presented and the discussion with the Oberlin Trustees took place. Press has taken notice, and so have elected officials. Significantly, student organizers received statements from the offices of State Representative Joe Miller and Senator Sherrod Brown. Both letters show decided sup- port for UAW members, and highlight Oberlin’s history, an organization that was founded on values of equity and inclusion.
For more information and to stay updated, follow @ oberlinbeyondausterity on Facebook, Twitter, and Ins- tagram. ◊