The University as Employer

Labor in the contemporary university must be analyzed with two broad conditions in mind. First, higher education and healthcare are often interlinked and are fast growing industries. In the context of deindustrialization and unemployment, “meds and eds” have been championed as tools of urban redevelopment and economic growth. Second, universities and associated health centers are often among the largest employers in a given labor market, making university-hospital complexes in some regions function as “company towns” with outsized political and economic power.


This context shapes the conditions of academic workers, student workers, the hospital sector, and nonprofessional workers.

Dominic Walker and Tania Bhattacharyya from GWC-UAW Local 2110 discuss graduate student unionization at Columbia University.


The fundamental injustice of corporate greed and worker exploitation calls for robust modes of redress that allows for the most marginalized of university workers – and all workers – to thrive.

Campus workers have the right to organize labor unions; to official recognition of their union; and the ability to “meet and confer” with officials at the departmental, institutional, and state levels on all issues of concern. Campus workers have the right to freely conduct meetings on nonworking hours; to petition for redress of grievances; to deduct dues from paychecks; and ultimately to bargain collectively in order to protect and advance our collective.

Campus workers have the right to guaranteed comprehensive health care; to an adequate retirement; to paid vacations and/or sabbaticals; to paid family leave; and to tuition remission or adequate funding for educational opportunities for workers and their families, including partner benefits.

Campus workers have the right to a base salary high enough to provide for their families to live a decent life without reliance on governmental assistance or private charity, and to salaries that are equitable with wages paid at peer institutions and in private employment.

Campus workers have a right to protection against discrimination based on past criminal and financial record. Ban the box” prohibits or delays inquiries about criminal record history until later in the decision-making process. Both criminal background checks and credit checks constitute an illegitimate barrier to employment.

Universities should guarantee twelve months of work and pay for all workers rather than furlough staff during the summer months. One model of annual work and pay is suggested in the recent victory of striking Harvard dining hall staff whose recent contract includes additional compensation (above their annual salary) paid in three installments during the summer months.

Considering the racial dynamics of college athletics, we recommend the distribution of athletic revenues to community-based initiatives. These resources can be used to fund commitments agreed to in Community Benefits Agreements.

Campus workers have the right to a workplace free from harassment, exploitation, and discrimination. This includes the right to receive fair and equal treatment, opportunities, pay, and benefits regardless of religion, race, nationality, immigration history, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, disabilities, or political orientation. Campus workers have the right to equal pay for equal work.

Campus workers have the right to jobs protected from the threat of privatization, outsourcing, and subcontracting.

Campus workers have the right to a grievance procedure that includes the right to grieve all matters that can impact safety, evaluations, raises, transfers, layoffs, promotions, and disciplinary actions, and they have the right to representation of their choice at all levels.