The Founding of UCWGA

We all remember the year 2016 as a wild one, not least because of the outcome of the election in November. Earlier that fall, however, a different drama was playing out in the USG. That spring, the US Department of Labor under President Obama had rolled out new guidelines requiring that all salaried employees earning less than $47K per year be eligible for “time and a half” for hours worked beyond the standard 40 per week. This more than doubled the out of date threshold of $23K that had been in place since 2004. This seemed like good news for thousands of USG employees.

But USG claimed that this wouldn’t be possible under existing pay guidelines, so they moved these workers from salaried to hourly positions— all while warning that they would never pay overtime to these workers anyway. As part of the switch—to be implemented just before the holiday season— these workers suffered an immediate loss of 8 days’ pay. UGA and USG administrators claimed to be sweating to mitigate the problem, but oddly none of their bright ideas worked out. The underlying reason was clear enough: the affected workers had no voice on the job, and no clout as a group.

Linda Lloyd, Director of the Economic Justice Coalition in Athens, and a veteran of the fight for workers’ rights, organized a demonstration to protest this sorry performance at the Arch on the UGA campus in early October. Among those who showed were Annelie Klein and myself. She and I were not acquainted at the time, but we locked eyes when someone said the word “union.” Within a few days we met Tom Smith, a brilliant organizer for CWA, at another forum that Linda organized at the public library. With Tom’s help, we went underground to convince staff, students, and faculty of the importance of organizing. By December of 2017 we had reached our goal of 50 members, and the Local was born.

-- Joe Fu, UCWGA founding member