The Daily Gamecock

USC workers union pushes for $20 minimum wage

Members of the United Campus Workers union at the University of South Carolina held a speak-out event on the Russell House patio on Oct. 26, 2023. The workers union held the event to call for higher wages for university workers and encouraged attendees to sign the union's petition.

Members of the United Campus Workers union at the University of South Carolina held a speak-out event on the Russell House patio Thursday morning to call for higher wages for university workers. 

The union is now pushing for a $20 minimum wage for all full-time, part-time and contract-hourly workers. It is bargaining for a minimum salary of $40,000 for salaried workers and a minimum annual stipend of $20,000 for graduate students. 

Full-time staff secured a minimum wage raise from $14 to $15 in July after pushing for higher wages over the last two years, said union organizer AD Foster. The raising cost of living and growing inflation created a need to continue fighting for a higher minimum wage, he said.

"We see that when we fight, we win," Foster said. "We see the progress and the victories that workers can make when they stand together.” 

The union has also been gathering signatures on a petition for a living wage, which has 729 signatures out of a goal of 1000 as of Oct. 26.

The organizers formally reached out to university President Michael Amiridis to attend the speak-out, but he had a scheduling conflict and could not attend, according to Victor Ponds, a union member and school of the earth, ocean and environment graduate assistant. 

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A folding chair reserved for University of South Carolina President Michael Amiridis sits empty on the stage of the Russell House patio during a USC worker speak-out event on Oct. 26, 2023. The event was hosted by United Campus Workers at USC.

“We're calling on a response from Amiridis," Ponds said. "We want a public commitment before the end of the semester." 

Dave "Mac" Marquis, a union member and a postdoctoral fellow in the history department, said something that makes the United Campus Workers union unique is that it's a wall-to-wall union.

A wall-to-wall union groups all the employees of the university as one bargaining unit. At USC, that means that everyone, from tenured faculty to contracted workers, is eligible for the same union.

South Carolina is a right-to-work state, which means it's illegal for businesses to require employees to join a union as a term of employment. South Carolina has been a right-to-work state since 1954.

"We have to be, we have to stand together if we're going to make it work," Marquis said. "There's precedent, recent precedent even in non right-to-work states, people realized this was a path to victory." 

Russell Facemire, a union member and a graduate art history student, came to USC for a change of pace after he quit his job as an art teacher due to stress. 

Facemire said that he loves the school of visual art and design, but his stipend covers his rent and little else.

"I'm still made aware every time I write out a check for my rent," Facemire said. "I'm reminded every time how precarious my situation really is. I don't know what I would do if my car were to break down, and I couldn't go to buy groceries. Or if I had to go back to the hospital, which would just drain my bank account."

Editor's note: A previous version of this article included an incorrect statement about an employee contract, which has been removed.