A student worker union has formed from students coming forward about concerns and issues within WCU’s work environment.
The Undergraduate Alliance for Student Worker Success (UASWS) formed this fall semester after the president of the union, Aiás Magitas, was fired and began advocating for student workers. The Alliance’s main goal is “to organize WCU’s young workers”.
“Student workers are the lifeblood to WCU, and we deserve dignified wages and treatment for our work, regardless of how the university sees us. Most student workers think they can’t fight back but in reality, we’re completely protected and it’s within our rights to unionize,” said Magitas over text.
Raise Up the South, an organization that finds smaller unions and lower-paid workers to advocate for better working conditions and pay, is helping the union spread its message of advocating on a college campus.
Student workers from different areas of WCU have been speaking out about concerns and work conditions like Aramark, Dining Services and Department of Campus Activities (DCA). The following information has been gathered from sources who wish to remain anonymous out of fear of consequences, as well as what UASWS has given The Western Carolinian.
There are efforts to unionize DCA out of concerns relating to wages and employee tasks. Employees oversee setting up events, run the UC help desk, deal with technology in reservation rooms and many other tasks.
Jeff Hughes, director of DCA, was not able to give an interview during this time.
WCU Dining has had issues finding students to hire since Fall 2020. This has led to some locations being closed like Which Wich, Einstein Bros. Bagels and 1889 Bistro. Most restaurants are operating on limited hours due to low staffing.
Interviewed anonymous employees have compiled a list of reasons like wages, working conditions, customers and distrust of management from experiences of coworkers or themselves. Some examples are sexual harassment, certain conversations and unfair treatment, among others.
Without a full team, there are student workers who have had to take on student lead positions. Many are still waiting on backpay. This is when an employee performs for a certain job title but has yet to be compensated for that pay. A majority of these students work for Aramark. Students started their student lead positions without a raise and have yet to hear when they will receive their higher pay.
Other sources have said they are doing the same tasks as a student lead but have not seen a change in job title or a raise.
One unnamed student lead tells us that the unbalanced amount of work has fallen on some managers and leads who must work extra hours with fewer days off. This source mentions the biggest problems are staffing and lack of management. This leads to fewer food options and longer waiting times, which is why we have “hellacious lines that are stressful for us, managers and customers.”
Another source says their work experience has been good, but communication between management and employees is a concern.
“This year they changed the base pay but did not clarify if returning employees were also getting the raise. No one would give us a straight answer until a couple of weeks into the school year,” the anonymous source said.
Jeffrey Marshall, director of Dining Services, declined to answer our reporter’s questions due to confidentiality reasons but did give The Carolinian a statement:
“Catamount Dining Services respects our employees, values their contributions, and prefers to work with them directly. We take all comments about our work environment very seriously by investigating and taking appropriate action on any issues that are brought to our attention, especially any complaints about harassment.”
Marshall did not comment on if student workers could unionize or talk about unions on the clock or off. According to the law offices of James Scott Farrin, North Carolina is a right-to-work state and employers can terminate employees at will, with exceptions based on discrimination and retaliation.
Students and workers are now left in the dust waiting to see what changes will happen and when restaurants will go back to normal.