SEIU leads a student tour of campus classified workers

The Service Employees International Union took students on a tour of the classified workers’ side of campus last Wednesday, Feb. 18. SEIU has been attempting to increase awareness of its union since a near-strike this summer.

An Ethnic Studies 199 class attended the tour. The instructor, Associate Professor Daniel HoSang, hoped his class could learn about classified unions on campus and how they affect employees of different rankings and positions.

The short tour met with multiple employees — including Morgan Blake, a cook in the Carson Dining Hall; Theodora Thompson, an admissions evaluator and the president of the University of Oregon’s SEIU branch; and Paul Keats, who works for the American English Institute on campus.

Morgan Blake previously worked at Rosboro Lumber with her husband, and found the importance in having a union during her first pregnancy.

“When I got pregnant the first time, they tried to lay me off,” Blake said. “If I hadn’t had my union there supporting me and saying, ‘Hey, you can’t do that,’ I wouldn’t have had a job.”

Blake was the only woman working at the sawmill. Blake became pregnant again, and the sawmill tried to fire her a second time. The mill filed for bankruptcy and shut down in 2008. Morgan the earned a culinary degree from Lane Community College and eventually found her way the Carson Dining Hall on the UO campus.

“Classified staff are the people working on the front lines to help you get what you need out of this university, and yet they’re paid the lowest. The senior administrators are the real 1 percent here.” – Paul Keats, SEIU member
Theodora Thompson is the campus union’s president. An immigrant, Thompson said she saw the importance in unions because they protected rights that she wasn’t fully aware of and prevented employers from taking advantage of her.

“When I came to this country, I didn’t know about rights,” Thompson said,”and once you give something away, it’s hard to take it back.”

As the president of the union, Thompson’s priority is to make sure employees are working a healthy amount. She believes that being overworked and not having time for your loved ones is unhealthy both physically and mentally.

Paul Keats said he finds value in unions based on the salary balances they allow. Keats sees a problem with the disconnect between the wages that classified staffs are paid and the wages that senior administrators are paid.

“Classified staff are the people working on the front lines to help you get what you need out of this university, and yet they’re paid the lowest,” Keats said. “The senior administrators really are the 1 percent here.”

Keats said that if it wasn’t for the union representing him and his colleagues, the wage gap on campus would be even larger.

Throughout the tour, the students showed passion and curiosity in their questions, and they seemed to leave with more knowledge and enthusiasm on the topic of unions.

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Macy Hyland

Macy Hyland