Graduate Fellows and Student Workers Host First Annual May Day Parade
On May 1, otherwise known as May Day to many, the First Annual May Day Parade hosted by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation and the newly formed UO Student Workers union took place.
Around 3:30 p.m., student workers began to gather at Washburne Park, down the street from the University of Oregon, to organize for the parade, pick signs, and decorate their bicycles with colorful paper flowers.
The parade set off on Agate St. at 4:15 p.m. after a couple of speeches about the plans for the parade and some practice chants.
Making their way towards the university, the student workers and union members chanted phrases such as “what do we want, worker power;” “what time is it, union time;” and “UO works, because we do.”
A few minutes later, they had arrived on the university campus and gathered in front of the entrance to Hayward Field under the observation tower for more speeches.
Kristina Beggen, a steward in Sociology, said that she hadn’t ever spoken into a megaphone before, was drunk on labor power, and asked the crowd what they envisioned in the new society they want to build. The responses varied from free healthcare, to free housing, to no cops, and to land back among others.
Noah, a UOSW organizer, spoke next and talked about how May Day, or International Workers Day, had started in Chicago when, in 1886, workers went on strikes and rallied for an eight-hour work day. But winning that came at a cost, Noah said. Four civilians were killed during the riots that broke out and, later, four more were executed after being persecuted in court.
Around 4:30 p.m., the march resumed deeper into the university campus and, after a very brief stop to chant for all the student workers inside the Erb Memorial Union, continued to the front of Johnson Hall where they were met with even more student workers and union members for additional speeches. .
Rhiannon, who led the march, spoke about the power of direct action while referencing The Pioneer, a statue that formerly stood directly across the street from Johnson Hall, otherwise known as the main administration building.
She spoke about how, for years, students and faculty had expressed concerns about the racist statue that symbolized colonization. Instead, other than a committee to give recommendation to then-President Michael Schill, not much else happened — until June 13, 2020.
On that day, following a rally at the formerly named Deady Hall—now University Hall—ropes were tied around the statue and it was pulled down off its pedestal and dragged up the steps of Johnson Hall to its endpoint: right in front of the doors.
Mae Bracelin of UO Student Workers spoke next and said “today is a day of action, today is a day of bravery, the long river of history is directed by those people and those workers who, so full of fire and passion, have been daring to take action and forge a new world.”
Capping-off speeches at Johnson Hall was UOSW Organizing Committee’s Elizabeth White who, really encapsulating the student workers’ real-life concerns, spoke directly about the income disparity between student workers and those within the university’s administration.
UOSW Organizing Committee’s Elizabeth White read aloud an email that was sent to the administration:
“The University of Oregon claims that it ‘value[s] our diversity and seek[s] to foster equity and inclusion in a welcoming, safe, and respectful community’ (University of Oregon), yet you refuse to treat your student workers with basic dignity and respect. The University claims to value and respect its international students, yet forces them into jobs that are underpaid and unvalued. The University preaches equity and inclusion at any given chance, yet your marginalized student workers are overwhelmingly disrespected and discriminated against. Not only do you fail to foster equity or inclusion, you are actively working against it.
The University of Oregon claims that it ‘value[s] [its] shared charge to steward resources sustainably and responsibly’ (University of Oregon), yet your incoming president is contracted to make $725,000 while many of your student workers are quite literally starving. A third of your undergraduate students faced food insecurity over the 2021-2022 school year; in Oregon over 60% of Indigenous students, over 50% of Black students, over 45% of Latine students, over 60% of trans students, and over 50% of student parents face food and/or housing insecurity (Hunger Free Oregon). Your actions directly contribute to this. According to a survey conducted by UO Student Workers (UOSW), 92% of Resident Assistants, who are the foundation of student success and retainment, are financially insecure because the University refuses to pay them a wage. Despite this, you still have the audacity to use RA’s well-being as a negotiation chip.
The University of Oregon claims that it ‘value[s] the passions, aspirations, individuality, and success of the students, faculty, and staff who work and learn here’ (University of Oregon), yet by underpaying and exploiting your student workers you undermine their ability to be successful as students. Student’s passions are being stifled by the harm the University is causing. Many workers have no choice but to work on campus; it is your most vulnerable populations who are being the most impacted by your refusal to do right by your community.
I insist that you provide the promised raises to your Resident Assistants, who are not paid a living wage despite being regularly placed in harmful, mentally and physically draining situations. I insist that you and your administration start acting in good faith, stop preventing a fair and timely certification process, and maintain accurate records regarding the student workers on campus. Your general council has provided us with a list of only 700 student workers, when we know that there are over 4,000 student workers. General Council claims that they are following UOSW’s definition for who is included in the unit, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of student workers who qualify UOSW’s definition and were excluded from the list of 700. This action is disgraceful; not only do you exploit your students, but you disregard and directly disrespect them. The University works because its workers do, and it is unacceptable to see such explicit actions being taken against UOSW while you simultaneously claim to take ‘a completely neutral stance on unionization and support a fair union election process’ (University of Oregon). The University must do better – I demand that you engage in good faith with the UO Student Workers’ Union.”
After speeches concluded, around 4:10 p.m., the march resumed down 13th Ave. to the GTFF office for a potluck.
In a statement to DSM following the parade, Ella Meloy, a lead organizer at UOSW said:
“Mainly, we are attempting to make our unit anyone who works more than 4 hours a week on a typical week (so excluding finals + breaks). We are doing this to try to make sure the union is mainly fairly stable employees, not students working briefly for a month or so. The UO has removed most of our main organizers, including me for example- i work 10-12 hours a week — so we know that this is not an accurate number. We’ve explained that we would like them to recalculate. We’ve also asked for the lists of names for the 4,300 and they don’t seem to have that list either. We’ve also been told that that 4,300 is most likely inflated and not up to date which makes sense that they wouldn’t want to give us the names of all those workers (they don’t have that list). Either way, they are not cooperating with us and their messaging is misleading there.”