Saturday, July 13, 2024

UCW protest for biweekly pay at the Applied Engineering Building’s beam-signing event

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Featured photo by Ethan Schmidt

Story by Ethan Schmidt

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The United Campus Workers of MTSU organized a protest for biweekly pay on May 1 at the Applied Engineering Building’s beam-signing event.

A total of 12 students, including some of the union’s members, waved signs and briefly chanted “We want biweekly pay” for the duration of the 10 minute event.

Depending on when they start, new workers may have to wait up to six weeks for their first paycheck. (Taken by Ethan Schmidt)

The protest is the result of a petition that called for biweekly pay for hourly employees at MTSU, and it obtained 700 signatures and a March 2024 SGA resolution. The UCW met with President Sidney McPhee in October 2023, which only brought a commitment from administration to “explore processes” for changing the pay schedule. A union delegate also shared the workers’ concerns with the Board of Trustees in March, yet the trustees did not discuss the issue any further.

Wednesday’s protest represents the union’s first act of civil disobedience against the school’s administration after it spent the entire school year utilizing all of the available institutional levers of power. 

“If they’re gonna ignore us, we must go where we cannot be ignored,” Ashton Beatty, the former UCW secretary, said after the protest. “We hope we get biweekly pay, and we hope we can form a good relationship with the university, but now the ball’s in their court.”

Despite the short length of the protest, President McPhee briefly spoke with the protesters.

“I understand your concerns, and it’s an area we want to be working on,” he said, “I’ve met with a number of folks regarding this issue, and we’re hoping that we’ll get a new system in place very soon that will allow us to do this.”

McPhee’s assurances did not persuade Beatty.

“The sooner we get it, the sooner we can stop suffering, because we’re late on our rent and stuff,” Beatty said to McPhee at the protest.

Former UCW secretary Beatty shakes hands with President McPhee. (Taken by Ethan Schmidt)

The timing of the protest was significant to the UCW, as May 1 is known as “International Workers’ Day,” also called “May Day.” It commemorates the violent Haymarket Affair, an 1886 police crackdown in Chicago on striking workers demanding an eight-hour workday.

Two police officers arrived at the protest in its final minutes, and one of them asked for a protester to speak with her. Sterling Martin stepped aside to talk with her.

“She basically just asked, you know, like what were we there for?” Martin said after the protest. “And I explained it, and I will say, to her credit, she was actually quiet, nodding along, at least seemed to be actively listening to what I said.”

Where she went wrong, Martin said, was when she claimed that student protesters needed to have a permit.

Martin turned to Beatty to ask if they had a permit.

“When I have hosted protests at the STU, they told me we need a permit for amplified sound,” Beatty said to the officer. None of the protesters were using amplified sound.

According to MTSU Policy 103, Section III-M, the school “will not establish permitting requirements that prohibit students’ spontaneous outdoor assemblies or students’ outdoor distribution of literature,” but simply allows for a space to be reserved.

Section IV-B-f of Policy 100 similarly asserts that “such use of space is on a space available basis and no request is required pursuant to this policy.”

The officers walked back to their nearby car to double-check the facts with other colleagues who arrived at the scene, but the beam-signing event and protest ended before they could return to the protesters.

President McPhee signs the final beam to be used in construction of the new Applied Engineering Building. (Taken by Ethan Schmidt)

Beatty says there are two further demonstrations that the UCW is planning to take, but did not specify what they are. Over the summer, the union will organize plans for additional demonstrations in the fall.

For information, check out Sidelines’ past coverage.

Ethan Schmidt is a contributing writer for MTSU Sidelines.

To contact News Editor Alyssa Williams and Assistant News Editor Zoe Naylor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, and follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on X and Instagram at @mtsusidelines. Also, sign up for our weekly newsletter here.

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