First Victory in Justice for School Workers Campaign

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This report comes to us from the USAS Campus Worker Justice Tour, a series of visits to campuses around the country where students and workers are fighting back against corporate outsourcing and the exploitation of campus workers.

By Kai Thompson, student at Agnes Scott College

Last Tuesday, after months of campaigning, our President agreed to issue a statement supporting the reinstatement of unemployment benefits for all Georgia school workers. Last April, our custodial and dining hall workers were informed that they would no longer receive unemployment benefits while they are laid off over the summer and other school breaks. Although the US Department of Labor has found this ruling by Labor Commissioner Mark Butler illegal, Butler has refused to reinstate the benefits.

Since early fall the Agnes Scott College Living Wage Campaign, a USAS affiliate, has worked to spread awareness about this issue on our campus. We gathered signatures from students, faculty members, and workers showing their disapproval of Mark Butler’s reinterpretation of the law. Our school came together in solidarity to show support for our staff! Last Tuesday we met with President Kiss to discuss our concerns and convince her to release a public statement against Mark Butler. President Kiss agreed to release a statement, and to speak with Presidents on other campuses in Atlanta such as Emory and Spelman.

We are incredibly proud of Agnes Scott and President Kiss for doing the right thing to support our campus workers and workers across Atlanta. We have been working on the Justice for School Workers campaign with students at Emory and Spelman, and hope that their Presidents also step up to the plate to support human rights.

This fight for unemployment benefits for our campus workers is part of a larger fight for Justice for School Workers that we have been coordinating with Atlanta Jobs with Justice. Although our campus workers were denied their unemployment benefits last April, they have been facing poverty level wages and disrespect for much longer. When Mark Butler stole an important part of our campus workers’ livelihood, it only fueled their fire to fight for justice. Workers at Spelman College have recently begun organizing to form a union to fight for living wages and respect. Workers know that winning back their unemployment benefits is only the first step, and that they need a unified voice through their union contract to guarantee fair wages and working conditions.

Tomorrow, students and workers at Emory University and Spelman College will be asking their schools to make the commitment that Agnes Scott has made, and publicly support the reinstatement of unemployment benefits for workers. As the holidays approach, it is more important than ever that our administration’s take a stand to support workers on our campuses and across Georgia!

This project is made possible by a grant from the Diane Middleton Foundation.