UCWVA Takes the Fight for Workers Rights to New Orleans
Recently, Nathan Romans and Laura Ornée of United Campus Workers of Virginia joined UCW members from across the nation for an "organizing blitz" at the University of New Orleans. An organizing blitz is an opportunity to spread the word about worker organizing and build the union. Nathan provided us with this dispatch from UNO.
The workers and students at the University of New Orleans are still reeling from post-Katrina enrollment decline coupled with crumbling infrastructure and divestment from the state government. They've been left behind in one of the greatest cities in the world, a baffling choice by Louisiana politicians.
During the organizing blitz, UNO staff workers said they themselves were forced to clean overflowing toilets, fix leaks in the ceiling, and even clean up dead rats left to cook in the summer heat - all due to the privatization of their maintenance department. Faculty and Grad Workers lamented the lack of support for their students who have been left to fend for themselves and the forgotten departments where faculty leave and are never replaced.
The work that United Campus Workers Louisiana is doing at UNO is very much needed and has never been more crucial to the survival of their campus. Workers want to save their university and so during this blitz, we were tasked with identifying workers who were willing to stand up and fight back.
I can safely say the UCW-UNO Chapter is off to a good start because of dedicated member leaders and strong staff support. They are identifying leaders and issues, developing authentic relationships, and having Structured Organizing Conversations through a methodological approach
We involved in the blitz split the campus into "turfs" and paired up to tackle our assignments. We went floor by floor and tried to catch faculty during office hours or right after classes ended. When we saw a worker in the hallway, we stopped and asked them about their jobs. We went into study spaces, counseling centers, and staff offices to talk with workers from all sectors.
This method of identifying potential members and establishing genuine relationships is what I'll bring back to my organizing work at William & Mary. We need to have thousands of these conversations with our coworkers to build the power we need to change Virginia Higher Education. As Chapter Chair, it is my job to encourage member leaders to get out into their workplaces and have these tough but rewarding conversations.
UNO's fight is W&M's fight, and the state of their chapter reminds me of where William & Mary Workers Union was a short nine months ago. This blitz demonstrated to me the power and necessity of building solidarity across state lines- especially with union siblings who've just begun to seriously organize. I hope that we helped UNO establish a firmer ground upon which to fight because I know the lessons Laura and I learned from our UNO siblings will substantially improve the work we're doing at UCW-VA.
Nathan Romans is a staff worker and Chapter Chair at William & Mary
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