Eric Rose

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Eric Rose

NE Georgia DSA Public Facebook Group

Northeast Georgia Democratic Socialists of America Public Facebook Group.[1]

Admins and Moderators

Members

"Wholesome Meme Stash"

Members of the Democratic Socialists of America Wholesome Meme Stash closed Facebook group, accessed November 14, 2017 included Eric Rose.[2]

Anti-privatization campaign

According to Chris Brooks and Rebecca Kolins Givan witing in In These Times “The first real task was to go back and talk to everyone on campus about what was happening,” says Ed McDaniel, a locksmith who has worked at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for 10 years and is now president of the union. “We all went out and tried to get more people to join because we knew that the union was going to be leading this fight.” The effort brought hundreds of new members into UCW.

The union sounded the alarm about the privatization plan through rallies, press conferences, editorials and town halls. It fact-checked Governor Haslam’s claims about the supposed benefits of privatization. It amplified explosive media reports about his financial ties to JLL and the ways he might personally benefit from the deal. While running for governor, Haslam had disclosed a “major investment” in JLL, of an unspecified amount.

“We had a little of everything,” Doris Conley says. “We did flyers and cards. We were out on the highway, in parking lots, in the mall, on campus getting folks to sign postcards for their legislators.”

UCW also collected over 5,000 signatures on a petition opposing outsourcing.

“We put them on a sheet of paper that was 150 feet long and 3 feet wide,” McDaniel says. “We took it to the legislative plaza and rolled it down the hall, chanting ‘Tennessee is not for sale.’ The legislators were coming out of their offices and committee meetings to see what was happening. Legislators were trying to get by and they were having to jump over the scroll.”

The most crucial strategic decision of the campaign was to hone in on populist Republican suspicion of rich elites by choosing the governor as the target. Many legislators were sympathetic to working-class constituents who could have their jobs privatized by a company in which the billionaire governor had invested.

“It turns out that class is a big issue inside the Republican Party,” says Jeffrey Lichtenstein, UCW secretary and part-time worker at the UT Health Science Center. “Even Republicans saw the governor as misusing his office to strip away jobs and personally enrich himself. It split the party open.”

“We actually have a lot of direct access and leverage with Republicans [because] we have members in rural and suburban areas throughout Republican districts,” explains Thomas Wayne Walker, a former rank-and-file member who now works as the union’s communications coordinator.

UCW members met with lawmakers in their districts and capitol offices to build a bipartisan coalition to stop outsourcing. Twenty-eight Democrats and 47 Republicans, more than half of the state legislature, signed a letter authored by the UCW calling for a halt to the outsourcing.

Republican lawmakers even sponsored legislation—inspired by UCW model language, according to Lichtenstein—that begins to provide greater scrutiny of the outsourcing process. It passed both houses of the state legislature unanimously.

Under mounting pressure, Haslam agreed to give state agencies and colleges a choice to opt in or out of privatization. So the UCW took the fight back to its home turf of college and university towns, getting local governments and businesses to weigh in and tip the scales against outsourcing. In August 2017, the state agency responsible for managing the state’s parks abandoned the plan. Two months later, the entire University of Tennessee system publicly opted out. To date, the only college to opt in is Austin Peay University in Clarksville, which had already outsourced its janitorial services.

The UCW has its roots in the high-profile living wage campaigns of the 1990s. In Knoxville, the Tennessee Industrial Renewal Network (TIRN) worked with Jobs with Justice of East Tennessee to launch an unsuccessful living wage campaign for city workers.

The campaign didn’t raise wages for city workers, but it did catch the eye of activists in the University of Tennessee’s Progressive Student Alliance, who received training through the AFLCIO’s 1999 “union summer” program. The student organizers began to talk with campus workers, especially in the housekeeping department, where many students had summer jobs.

“At the time [2000] we had gone four years without a raise,” says Sandy Hicks, 66, who worked in housekeeping at the university for over 25 years and was the UCW’s first president. “The university had been downsizing to the point that the work was too much for us to handle. We were disgusted and didn’t think there was any way out.”

The newly formed independent union quickly realized that to expand to other campuses, they would require support.

After discussions with the United Electrical Workers and other unions, they chose CWA, which was willing to both fund a full-time organizer for two years and give the fledgling union complete programmatic control. Equally important was the success of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU), which had been organized by the CWA 20 years earlier and represents state employees in multiple agencies, universities and hospitals. As in Tennessee, Texas state workers have extremely restricted collective bargaining rights, so the union is in a constant hustle to organize and mobilize.

“I was afraid if we opened up the union’s membership, then all these left-leaning faculty like me would be drawn to it and wouldn’t be able to keep their mouths shut, and it wouldn’t be home to all the hourly wage people on campus who it was created to support,” says Fran Ansley, a former professor at the University of Tennessee law school and a founding member of the UCW. “I have been convinced since then that this was the right move.”

On TSEU’s advice, the UCW opened up its membership and organized chapters on 19 state college campuses across the state: from Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis to rural areas like Martin. The union now has 1,873 members, or 7 percent of all eligible campus workers.

“Every time I talk to someone about the union, I mention the success that UCW Tennessee has had, especially the Tennessee Is Not for Sale campaign,” says Eric Rose, who has worked at the University of Georgia library for a decade. “They had all the odds against them, they were up against a Republican-dominated legislature and these big-monied interests with incredible power—and they won.”

Rose is part of a cohort of union activists who have worked with the CWA to organize their own UCW local in Georgia. Like Tennessee and Texas, Georgia restricts state employees from collective bargaining, yet the small union has quickly grown to 94 members in four months. UCW GA has been holding regular meetings and is starting to ramp up its own campaigns, focusing on broad-based issues like expensive parking fees for campus employees.

“We have a dream to organize the entire University of Georgia system, just like UCW Tennessee has,” says Joe Fu, a tenured math professor. “And we hope the UCW model expands beyond Georgia.”

That hope is well placed. According to the CWA, organizing committees are being formed at several other Southeastern Conference schools in the South.[3]

References