Our History

In early 1999, student activists from the Progressive Student Alliance at UTK (then known as the Alliance for Hope) along with some UTK faculty and community allies (particularly the labor-community group Jobs with Justice and the Tennessee Industrial Renewal Network) began planning a “living wage campaign” for UT workers.

A similar campaign was happening for Knoxville city employees, and many felt that University of Tennessee employees would benefit from a similar plan. An organization of campus staff called Campus Workers for a Living Wage formed so workers themselves could lead the struggle. Ultimately, CWLW became the United Campus Workers, an independent union of university staff employees.

In the past 10 years, UCW has affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, grown into an organization of over 1,900 higher education staff and faculty at Tennessee Board of Regents, Locally Governed Institutions (LGIs, or formerly TBR 4-year universities), and University of Tennessee schools, and won numerous victories in the everyday lives of the folks that keep Tennessee’s public institutions of higher education running.

1999 - Early History of the UT Living Wage Campaign and the Origins of UCW

  • Spring: Planning committee forms to plan March 2000 teach-in and bring nationally recognized activists and intellectuals to educate the university community about labor and human rights.
  • Summer: Several Progressive Student Alliance members attend the AFL-CIO’s “Union Summer” program, which gives student activists hands-on training in grassroots organizing and building worker organizations.
  • Fall: Committee forms to study the wage structure at UT and determine how many employees fall below the Living Wage threshold. Led by UTK Religious Studies Professor David Linge and UTK Social Work student Kristi Disney, researchers spend the next several months putting together this report.

2000 - Living Wage Campaign Kicks Off, Campus Workers Form Union

  • February 2000: An ad hoc group, the UT Faculty and Staff Committee for Labor and Human Rights, sends a letter to UT President Wade Gilley requesting he implement a Living Wage for UT’s workers. The president’s office does not respond.
  • March 3, 2000: The “Labor Rights as Human Rights at Home and Abroad” teach-in kicks off with a rally of close to 500 students, staff, faculty, and community supporters, led by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka. It starts at the University Center Plaza and ends with a march to Andy Holt Tower, where a delegation attempts to meet with UT President Gilley. The group meets with UT Vice President Phil Scheurer, who commits to setting up meetings with the group in the future.

Photos below capture action from the first rally.  Hover over the picture to get more information on the photo.

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Click here for page 2 (more history from 2000)