Arizona University workers denounce tuition increases
Arizona students demand action on their needs. | United Campus Workers Arizona/Twitter

TUCSON–Campus workers from Arizona’s three public universities confronted their Board of Regents on April 21 condemning the Board’s decision to raise tuition, fees, and other costs for students while largely ignoring health concerns, campus safety, and the very minimum economic needs of their employees.

Participating in the action at the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson were members active in union organizing drives at the three campuses.

United Campus Workers-CWA (UCW) has been organizing at the UA in Tucson, and Arizona State University (ASU) in the Phoenix area, while United Academics (UNAC), affiliated with AFT and AAUP, has been organizing at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff.

While campus workers had been considering unionization for some time, the union drive moved into high gear as a result of the horrible response to the COVID Pandemic concerns and their failure to consult faculty, staff, and students about their health and safety concerns.  Their concerns led to a decision by UA workers to organize campus workers wall to wall, from professors, to office workers, to student workers, up to and including janitors.

ASU campus workers initiated a similar drive.  The union drive at NAU had already started but was given a boost.  More recently, the UA campus was rocked by the murder of a well-loved professor shot by a former student.

The professor and some of his colleagues had received repeated death threats which were largely ignored by the administration.

Both at last Friday’s protest at the Board meeting and at a following campus rally UCW and supporters blasted the board’s decision to raise tuition costs by 3% for in-state students and higher for out-of-state students and some graduate categories. They also voted to raise fees, food, and housing costs.

Union members and representatives of several campus organizations addressed the board meeting demanding they reconsider before the board went ahead and voted for the increases.  The Arizona State Constitution mandates that universities be as tuition free as possible, yet costs have been raised year after year.

At the rally, UA’s UCW president, Sandy Soto, condemned the Board for not listening to its constituents and going so far as even raising the costs of food while many students and campus workers suffer food insecurity.  She also called for fee waivers for student workers adding that, “they need to return the universities to the people.”

Other speakers demanded recognition of their unions at all three campuses, abolishing tuition for graduate student workers, and building a movement to protect public education in Arizona.  Also speaking was UA law professor Kirsten Engle who lost a close race for Congress last Fall to right-wing Republican Juan Ciscomani, and is planning to take him on again in 2024.

Engle announced that as a new member of UCW, she was denouncing the right-wing legislature for cutting funding for all levels of education, pointing out that Arizona spends 50% less of its total budget on higher education than the average percentage spent across the country.

UCW is also fighting against the huge increase of contingent underpaid teachers who are particularly exploited.  They are also circulating petitions for a $25 an-hour minimum campus wage by 2025 that they call “25 by 25.”

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Joe Bernick
Joe Bernick

Joe Bernick is the Director of Salt of the Earth Labor College, Tucson, Arizona.