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VCU Workers Unionize, Demanding Better Pay, Conditions

People walk while holding sign which reads, "We are United Campus Workers
Members of the newly formed United Campus Workers' branch at VCU march in Monroe Park. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Faculty, staff and student workers at Virginia Commonwealth University announced Monday they are forming a union.

VCU will now host a chapter of the United Campus Workers of Virginia, an organization that began at the University of Virginia. The union kicked off two weeks of informational events and meetings with a rally in Monroe Park. The United Campus Workers will not push for collective bargaining powers, due to Virginia’s prohibition on government agencies recognizing unions..

Kristin Reed, an associate professor at VCU and a member of the union chapter’s steering committee, said the union would instead focus on demanding better pay and working conditions.

“We are really committed to moving forward the demands made by our adjunct members earlier in the year,” she said. “We’re hoping to see a lot more movement, especially as workers across the university step up in solidarity with the adjuncts.”

Reed said VCU’s United Campus Workers chapter has committee’s for different categories of workers, like graduate students or faculty members. Those committees will decide whether to make public demands and protest, or do less public-facing organizing within their departments.

So far, the union has attracted approximately 60 members across VCU, with roughly 250 members statewide. The United Campus Workers VCU chapter will host a series of informational events for workers over the next two weeks. They’ll also host a virtual panel on May 5 for students and their families, explaining why they believe a union benefits the entire campus community.

The announcement of a workers’ union at VCU garnered immediate support from some progressive candidates running for statewide office. Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), who is running for lieutenant governor, and Jennifer Carroll Foy, a Democratic candidate for governor, backed the unionization effort on Monday.

“VCU sits in the capital of our state,” Carroll Foy said in a statement. “It is the biggest employer in Richmond. It's one of the biggest state universities. So when faculty and staff, adjuncts and graduate workers all come together and say, ‘we're going to form a union,’ it's not just a giant leap forward for themselves and their students, it's a giant step forward for the Commonwealth of Virginia, for true democracy.”

Asked for comment, VCU Spokesperson Michael Porter said budget recommendations that will be submitted to the Board of Visitors for approval in May include pay raises for all adjunct faculty.