Univ. of Arizona faculty, staff, and students say: Chop from the top!

TUCSON—University of Arizona workers and community supporters rallied on campus on Monday, Feb. 4, against the college’s plans for large layoffs and salary cuts and freezes.  The rally was organized by the United Campus Workers Arizona local 1765, which has been organizing and growing at the University of and at Arizona State University in Tempe.

The local union was born during the COVID-19 pandemic out of workers’ demands that employees and students be consulted about how the campus should deal with the health crisis.

Now, finances are at the heart of the struggle. Recent disclosures show that the U of A faces a $177 million deficit resulting from miscalculations and incompetence by the administration. At first, university leaders pretended they had dealt with the situation by having the CFO resign, but workers soon found out that the CFO was just transferred to another job, keeping her half-million-dollar-a-year salary.

So, the latest scheme the administration has come up with involves plans for severe budget cuts that will result in pay freezes, layoffs, and wage reductions.

Rally speakers addressed the need to lay off and cut the salaries of the overpaid and over-populated administration, rather than among the workforce that keeps the university functioning.

The union—which is organizing wall-to-wall, from part-time undergraduate students to TAs to professors to janitors—is demanding that the cuts should start at the top—beginning with the termination of University President Robert Robbins and other top administrators, reducing their numbers, and slashing their exorbitant salaries.

Photo via Campus Workers United Arizona

Aptly, protesters chanted, “CHOP FROM THE TOP!”

The university workers and students were joined in the protest by community supporters turned out by the Arizona Jobs with Justice Coalition.

Spencer Gantt, a staff representative for the union, asked why someone earning $30,000-a-paycheck should be deciding who gets to keep their job. He went on to call for a bigger and stronger union “to fight not only for ourselves but for our co-workers.”

Graduate student Marcos Esparza wondered why Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) hasn’t called for Robbin’s resignation yet. He pointed out that layoffs and freezing wages by such a large employer in inflationary times hurts the entire community.

Student body President Lisa Sanchez explained that the burden of the administration’s financial mismanagement should not fall on hard-working students and faculty and demanded transparency and accountability.

Law student Jeremy Bernick exclaimed, “I’m a proud union member from a proud union family,” which this writer can attest to, adding how furious he was at how little graduate students are paid—not enough to survive on.

Faculty Senate President Leila Hudson got to the gist of it. She explained, “Our work creates a surplus which is ripped off and redirected to the wealthiest part of the university and even out to Phoenix, it’s a reverse Robin Hood.”

Hudson said the people who do the actual work should not have to worry about their jobs, their incomes, health insurance, or the opportunity to earn their degrees. “The Faculty Senate is your ally!” she concluded.

The union is demanding that the resignation of top university execs, no layoffs of faculty and staff, and an independent audit, which means independent of the Board of Regents.

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Joe Bernick
Joe Bernick

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