Statement from the UW-Madison University Labor Council on Smart Restart

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August 5, 2020: We are the University Labor Council, a coalition of unions representing workers throughout UW–Madison. We are food service workers, trades workers, academic staff, faculty, custodians, non-academic staff, and graduate-student workers. The University works because we do: we disinfect dorm rooms, feed and educate our community’s young adults, ensure that the university is fiscally responsible, and build safe and efficient infrastructure. Every working day, we give our skills and our time in service to the Wisconsin Idea.

It is that service to our community and state that drives us now. We are in the midst of a global health and economic crisis that has only worsened since UW moved all classes online in March. On August 15th, the university plans to reopen dormitories at 90% capacity, with multiple students housed in each room; offer in-person instruction; and continue ramping up in-person research. Smart Restart forces us to expose ourselves, our loved ones, and the Madison community for a paycheck. The world-class teaching, research, and outreach of the university cannot come at the expense of maintaining public safety. Our community’s health is more important than tuition money and dorm dollars.

We are in a crisis brought on by state legislators and university administrators and exacerbated by the global pandemic. But we have the opportunity to reinvest in Wisconsin and respond to the costs of short-sighted fiscal planning. For years, state lawmakers systematically attacked public higher education and forced campuses throughout the UW System to spend down surpluses that would have helped weather this crisis. Legislators slashed education budgets, and UW administrations prioritized administrator salaries and debt servicing over investing in students and workers. These assaults, from legislators and UW System leadership, have decimated morale, eroded students’ and workers’ trust, and further eroded workplace democracy. Campus COVID-19 responses have been inconsistent and inequitable. Students, workers, and the people of Wisconsin should not shoulder the cost of poor planning and bad policy.

To ensure the health of the communities we serve, we demand that the University of Wisconsin–Madison:

  1. Move all courses online until Dane County Health Services reports zero new cases for fourteen (14) consecutive days.
  2. Provide employment and payment continuity for all workers—hourly, part-time, and salaried—during the pandemic. Do not shift the burden of the fiscal crisis onto low-income workers and vulnerable communities.
  3. Reinstate the $15 per hour promised wage for hourly workers and extend it to student workers.
  4. Meet and confer with campus labor unions and lobby the state Joint Committee on Employee Relations to immediately approve the trades workers’ contract.

Our response to Smart Restart is only the first step in articulating a new vision for UW–Madison: a vision that centers students, workers, and marginalized communities. The University Labor Council invites all campus workers—those with and without a union—to join us in this struggle to defend our public university and democratize the workplace. An injury to one is an injury to all!

Dave Branson, Executive Director, Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin
Alejandra Canales, Co-President, Teaching Assistants Association (TAA), Local 3220, American Federation of Teachers
CV Vitolo-Haddad, Co-President, TAA, Local 3220, AFT
Alyssa Franze, President, United Faculty and Academic Staff, Local 223, AFT
Peter Haney, President, Local 2412, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
Barb Peters, President, Local 171, AFSCME