Staff Editorial: AU’s response to strike illustrates the need to prioritize the University as a community, not a business
The act of community care that bridges a connection between students and staff is threatened by university actions
Last Monday, a recent Eagle article reported that after 486 days at the bargaining table followed by a week-long strike organized by the American University Staff Union, an agreement between the union and the University.
An email sent by Provost Peter Starr set the tone for the events that unraveled during the strike, emphasizing that the University negotiated in “good faith” and expressed several times in the email their disappointment in the union’s choice to strike. With the University having an email platform that’s able to reach thousands of families, it has an unfair advantage over the union, misconstruing their message into making the AU community think the strike is reactionary and unproductive.
What started as a smooth sailing strike soon turned into an overwhelming situation for all parties involved, including student workers such as orientation leaders and RAs. Due to the amount of staff protesting, the University had placed responsibility on student workers to conduct crowd control of the strike and help move families into the dorms in the hot weather. Many joining in on the strike may have been unaware that part-time student workers are unable to unionize, leaving student workers vulnerable to harassment and calling these workers “scabs.” The University placing workers in difficult situations like these portrays them as if they’re against the goals of the union and as union-busters.
For many families, seeing AU staff members stand outside the freshmen dorms, demanding that their employer pay them a wage that can fund their next meal, is their first impression of the University. Unaware of the entire situation between the union and the University and being kept up-to-date mainly through President Sylvia Burwell’s emails, parents directed their anger toward the union for “ruining” their child’s first-year experience. Many staff members who were part of the strike had mentioned that they didn’t wish to be on strike and did so as a last resort. Striking within a private sector has consequences for both the employer and the employee — the employer will economically suffer and the employee stops receiving paychecks, making striking less common among unions.
In response, the AU Staff Union had addressed during the strike and on social media that they always emphasize “students first” and had fellow faculty members take each other’s shift at their jobs when one was out protesting. Staff never forced students to join the strike and allowed them to make their own judgments and rather hope to educate them on the issues they’re fighting for.
AU administration leading the staff union strike directly impacts the bonds formed between students and staff. Many staff consider working at AU as a dream job and once they experience the work environment and inequitable pay, they are forced to find positions elsewhere, often in the middle of the semester. The majority of The Eagle editorial board noted that each of them had multiple first-year advisors or academic advisors during their time at AU. A number of advisors and other staff members went above and beyond what's required of their job positions to ensure student success, some working for decades and had made one of the lowest salaries expected of their position and tenure.
For other families and students, it brings an interesting observation to see that a large portion of union members are AU alumni and leads one to wonder how AU truly values student success throughout their careers. A few first-year students noted that they chose AU over other schools thinking it was the “most liberal” but found out that it was more of a reflection of the students and staff rather than the administrators themselves.
Though the AU community’s willingness to organize together toward a common goal is extremely admirable, the low effort it takes for others to blindly follow a movement without first taking the time to educate themselves can be concerning. The freshmen class look to the opinions of the student body and follow the common belief, which led to their walk-out of convocation when Burwell was introduced. Despite being a monumental action, a number of students may have viewed actions like these as a way to challenge authority for the fun of it and wrongly group all administrators as ones who make the executive decisions at the bargaining table.
As much as the contract agreement was long overdue and felt purposely orchestrated to be announced after the strike, the fact that administration had agreed to the demands despite its advertisement as a business entity positively reflects upon them. Nevertheless, The Eagle is in solidarity with the AU Staff Union and hopes that all promises made by administration are executed in a timely manner.
We urge the AU community to continue to stand up for the injustice that staff members still endure, as they’re the ones who make AU, AU.