Welcome to another one of our In Depth features, where I’ll be covering USLAC. (By the way, in case you haven’t picked up on my blatant pro-USLAC bias yet, I’m a member of the club/out here ~*~scamming 4 full communism at Wes~*~, depending on who you ask. Either way, true.)
USLAC, or the United Student/Labor Action Coalition, has been around at Wesleyan for a while. However, until about halfway this semester, USLAC was on a brief hiatus. Old school USLAC did some super good work on campus, which you can read about here, and some students wanted to have the opportunity to make a difference on campus. So the new members, coordinated with former USLAC members to revive the club. They also took the opportunity to connect with a dope organization that hosts chapters of labor rights groups at schools nationwide, USAS, or United Students Against Sweatshops. So many acronyms! And whoa-what is USLAC anyway, right? Because I’m not nearly eloquent enough to describe the group’s mission myself, here’s a handy description I got from good ‘ole Orgsync:
USLAC is a group of students standing in solidarity with the campus workers (custodians, food service, groundskeeping, etc.). We aim to gain recognition for them as an integral part of our campus community who deserve respect, care, and support. We collaborate with the workers to enact changes that they hope to see in their workplaces. We also work with the student body to encourage helpful and respectful behavior towards the workers. Furthermore, we help connect students with the labor movement at large by building solidarity with campus workers and with concurrent labor struggles outside Wesleyan.
In former years, Wesleyan’s USLAC chapter maintained solidarity with custodial staff, working alongside them to promote fair treatment and pay. Because Sun Services employees are subcontracted by the university, Wesleyan refuses to take on the role of “employer.” Thus, Sun Services workers needed a middleman to express their interests to the administration. So they organized protests and alerted students of their problems in meetings with translators (many of the custodial staff workers are native Spanish speakers). Throughout, USLAC helped amplify the workers’ voices and reach out to administrators.
Since its revival, USLAC has been re-connecting with Sun Services workers, student workers, and construction unions. USLAC has been going to the Sun Services break room in High Rise during their breaks and introducing themselves, chatting with custodial staff, and hearing their concerns. They’ve hosted a few awesome events, including a panel with local labor organizers, union members, and union heads; an end-of-year picnic with Sun Services workers (feat. a bunch of USLAC members and Sun Services workers ~dancing to the Cha Cha Slide together~, which was honestly magical); and a panel with Cheri Honkala, a labor rights organizer and the Green Party’s 2012 Vice Presidential candidate. They’ve also strengthened their connections with local union organizers and union workers in the Middletown area. In fact, some members even made a nifty, online zine earlier this week about some of the issues Sun Services workers have been encountering while cleaning dorms and program houses. Earlier this week, USLAC tabled at May Day at Long Lane Farm. They’ve co-sponsored events relevant to the group’s mission. USLAC even worked with members of the WSA and Wesleyan Democratic Socialists (DSA) to pass two resolutions: a $15 minimum wage resolution and a labor unionization and sustainability resolution.
Which isn’t to say that our school is, like, suddenly a place where no labor violations occur and students are making tons of cash at their work-study jobs or anything. In fact, it’s going to take years of organizing and agitating for these resolutions go into effect. Still, their introduction is certainly a start. It has sparked the conversation about labor rights on campus at a time when tuition keeps increasing, need-aware admission practices are increasingly keeping out low-income students, and Dean Farias is saying some really questionable things about work-study students (will this quote ever die? Probably not. Also #FariasOnTheFive, amirite?).
USLAC certainly still has a long way to go in terms of its organization. For one, a few of the group’s most active members are going abroad next semester. USLAC still needs to strengthen its connections with many of the workers on campus. Next year, the group aims to coordinate with Bon Appetit workers, adjunct professors, grounds workers, and others both on and off campus. USLAC members admit they haven’t been getting involved in off-campus actions enough and definitely want to collaborate more with off-campus labor organizing in the future. Plus, USLAC is always looking to make its coalition more diverse and representative of the Wesleyan student body at large.
Still, we’ve all got a lot to look forward to because USLAC is hopeful they can enact some changes in the coming years. After all, they’ve only just re-entered the campus sphere and have already gotten involved with a lot! Besides, they are always looking for suggestions. If you’re interested in joining yourself or know someone that is, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can find USLAC on Facebook here, or reach out to me or any of the other members via email/phone/Facebook/Wescam (preferably the latter) for more information.