Arizona State University workers go union, found United Campus Workers chapter
A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. Workers at the college have decided to unionize with the United Campus Workers, a local of the Communications Workers of America. | Matt York / AP

PHOENIX—In a historic move for organized labor in Arizona, workers at Arizona State University have joined with staff at the University of Arizona to unionize with United Campus Workers.

On Dec. 17, the newly-formed ASU-UCW chapter took to Twitter and Facebook to officially go public with the “wall-to-wall” union, meaning it’s intended to represent every employee of the university, no matter their division or specialization. Together, the ASU and UA groups now collectively form United Campus Workers Arizona, Local 7065 of the Communications Workers of America.

The timing of ASU-UCW’s announcement coincidently followed an email from the university provost’s office informing the campus community that spring break for the coming semester would be canceled—a seemingly unpopular move based on feedback from numerous posts and comments on the ASU subreddit.

With the launch of the ASU chapter, UCW Arizona now has over 500 graduate students, staff, and faculty within their ranks statewide. After the social media launch, many ASU workers and students posted photos of their new union cards and their reasons for joining the union. ASU-UCW says 50 new members joined up on the first day of the unionization campaign.

The ASU-UCW, which describes itself as a “union of faculty, staff, and student workers,” says it is striving to build collective power in order “to advance academic justice in fulfilling our university’s public mission.” In a recent interview, Laurie Stoff, an honors faculty member and union organizer, stated one goal was to “flatten the hierarchy that currently exists in higher education.”

Stoff reasons that since “we collectively make up this workplace, no one is more important than anybody else.” Like other job sites, the college can’t function without all its workers. “Everybody’s labor is essential for making the university run well,” Stoff said.

Among the issues that pushed university workers to unionize were pay gaps and lack of job security, both of which have been made worse by the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most universities across the country, the growth of contract labor and the end of permanent employment are major problems for workers at ASU.

In 2019, even before the coronavirus crisis, nearly 60% of faculty at the university were not in tenure track positions, meaning their employment was “at will,” or contingent. Several of these adjunct teachers have reported that their contracts were not renewed amidst the pandemic.

In response to the announcement that a union had been organized, the Arizona Board of Regents, the chief governing body for the Arizona university system, stated it does not “oppose labor organization membership of employees, according to its policy manual,” but said it has no “legal authority to grant bargaining rights.” No mention was made of support for students having the right to unionize.

The Communication Workers of America, of which UCW Arizona is a union local, has over 30,000 members working in higher education across 15 states.


Josh Bacopulos
Josh Bacopulos

Josh Bacopulos writes from Arizona.