The Daily Gamecock

Column: It's time for USC's community to fight for its campus workers

<p>FILE — 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 the United Campus Workers union at USC.</p>
FILE — 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 the United Campus Workers union at USC.

During times when every penny pinched is a penny earned, it's concerning to see our beloved university neglecting the financial well-being of its community.

Workers across campus have been pushing for higher wages for years with hardly any change. The last wage increase up to $14 was not nearly enough to financially ensure comfortability for its earners. The situation caused workers to strike and walkout, pleading for a fair wage.

USC should be troubled by the unfair pay on campus, but it also needs to acknowledge that this is a pressing issue that needs immediate attention.

As costs continue to rise, it’s apparent the university has struggled to increase wages sufficiently to help workers afford standard living.

Child-care, medical bills and even grocery shopping for food has spiked in prices, yet minimum wage at the university has remained still.

This makes living comfortably seem like a dream not all can afford. But this oversight isn't just a matter of dollars and cents. 

If the university isn't supplying students and full-timers the means to live, it questions the respect it has for its workers.

The United Campus Workers in South Carolina is among those sounding the alarm by taking its message to social media, stirring up awareness among viewers scrolling their feeds.

The coalition is focused on helping low-wage workers in areas such as the food industry, landscaping and custodial work. It creates converstaion through public rallies such as campus gatherings and petitions as tangible testaments to their economic strife and acknowledgements of their hardships

Yet, there's a thread of defeat weaving its way through these events, and it stems from USC’s lack of public response towards its devoted workers

United Campus Workers invited university President Micael Amiridis to its last walkout, but he did not show, said Robert Boland, a graduate social work student and member of the union

Not only is this discouraging to this organization, but it makes it very difficult for them to move forward or see change without much public response.

The growth of the union is crucial to petitioning for yearly raises while supporting workers campus-wide.

Students must advocate for themselves as the school wouldn’t be running without the many students giving it life. It's time the commuity joins together need to advocate for our fair share.

Without the means to live comfortably, employees won't be able to have basic needs all at once. If an employee is given just, and sometimes not even, enough to pay rent, what about their other basic needs?

“It’s sort of like (students and employees) are deciding or having to decide between things like bills or buying groceries for the month," Boland said.

In a sense, Boland said, it’s almost like if you aren’t married or have somebody to help support you financially, it seems impossible to get by on your own. One regular paycheck feels like it is not enough to support yourself financially.

Inflation is an ongoing contributing factor of why the cost of living has worsened. 

The price tag on consumer goods in the U.S. increased at a lofty 7.1% in 2022 over what it had been the previous year, according to a the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Inflation may well have topped out, yet those numbers still loom high with food prices taking a jumping by 10.6% gasoline increasing by 10.1%.

Housing costs aren't shy either. They've risen by 7.9%, and healthcare services saw a notable increase of 4.4%.  

But with all these rising costs, it seems that wages have stayed pretty stagnant.

The United Campus Workers at USC has been effective in getting the word out through its rallies and social media campaigns, yet It's crucial they are recognized for how vital these workers are to making Columbia's campus function.

USC's bookstore, the Starbucks at Thomas Cooper Library and meals members of USC's community eat everyday would not go over nearly as smoothly without its campus workers. Dorms would not be livable without the custodial staff. Yet, workers are not compensated for their hardships.

One can't ignore how pivotal student efforts are to USC’s functionality.

Student workers are vital in helping the university work smoothly. It’s only fair, then, that their advocacy isn’t merely whistling in the wind but a demand that can be recognized and compromised to make all parties happy, and to ensure a flourishing and better-off campus. 

An honest day's work for an honest day's pay isn't a luxury. It’s the grease-making, sweat-inducing work that contributes to USC's collective stride toward excellence.

But another issue remains at hand — letting people in the community know that it is okay to unionize. 

“I speak to so many people that think unions are illegal in South Carolina, but really it's a federally protected right for you to unionize,” Boland said. "A lot of people don't even know about us when I go to speak on campus." 

This is why it is essential to get the word out across campus and get students to participate in rallies mentioned on social media platforms and stapled on flyers across Columbia. 

“One of the things on our petition that we have is for the yearly raises," Boland said. "The job of the union is to continually compromise with the school administration so that the pay, the treatment of workers and their benefits and the amount that they work is fair.” 

The problem is, there is no ongoing negotiation with the university and the United Campus Workers at the moment, Boland said.

While the union has been hosting rallies and spreading petitions, there still hasn’t been a public response from the university's administration as off Nov. 17, Boland said.

“The last thing they said was when they initially raised (the minimum wage) to $14, which was September of last year," Boland said. "They were falling behind market value, and they just raised it to market value.”  

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Let’s not mince words: Remaining silent and hoping for change won't change anything.

It falls squarely on USC’s broad shoulders to hoist itself into action to make right by finally acknowledging the struggle of students and giving them a helping hand. 

Time doesn't wait for anyone, let alone USC. Ignoring this problem not only affects workers presently but also reduces opportunities for future success if not addressed.

The ongoing issue will continue to harm the community if nothing is done and if no awareness is made. Students and the USC community need to lock arms and help each other search for a solution that will stabilize the financial needs for the campus employees.