UCW leads march calling for fair pay for undergraduate students


Demonstrators hold a banner outside White Hall Classroom Building during a rally organized by United Campus Workers of Kentucky on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky.

Courtney Suber, Reporter

In wake of National Student Employee Appreciation Week, the United Campus Workers (UCW) of Kentucky protested the average wage of undergraduate student workers with a march on campus on Friday, April 14.

The march began at Whitehall Classroom Building and continued northward until students reached UK president Eli Capilouto’s office. Attendees called for a raise in student worker wages.

“This march was the latest action in our campaign that we launched in October 2022 to get a $15/hour minimum wage for all student workers — no exceptions,” Erin Maines, an organizer for the event, said. 

UCW organizers started coordinating the event in early March through canvassing, social media, phone banks and more.

In the week leading up to the march, leaders made personal phone calls and invited people to the rally. 

The march saw several attendees as well as new potential UCW members.  

“Because of the timing of this in the semester and in the week, we thought we might have gotten a small crowd, but we ended up getting over 50 people in attendance,” Maines said.

UCW members urged people to sign the UCW’s petition to Capilouto. 

Recently reaching over 800 signatures, the petition asked for adjustments towards the treatment of undergraduate employees. 

This includes a call for all undergraduate workers to be paid a living wage, an assurance that fair representation is in place for all undergraduate workers and that Capilouto meets with UCW leadership to tackle issues facing undergraduate workers.

UCW members handed Capilouto the petition and research that had been contributed for the justification of their cause.

“We want him to know that we are going to keep the pressure on until our demands in the petition are met,” Maines said. 

In 2020, the UCW called for a minimum wage of $15/hr for all regular employees at UK. However, undergraduate students were exempted from this due to being classified as temporary rather than regular employees.

“While wages are dependent on the type of position, the average wage for all student hourly positions for which we have data is currently $11.96 an hour,” UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said.

UCW is also pushing for more amenities for workers at the university, including paid sick leave and HR representation. 

The march also had support from student workers who were unable to attend. 

“I firmly believe the March was justified because we are also college students trying to make ends meet, yet a lot of our paycheck has been taxed and used for the school instead,” Yujen Tong, a freshman at UK, said.

Undergraduate students continue to echo the sentiment of feeling mistreated by the school that they contribute towards financially.

“It’s extra disappointing when it’s your own school and many of us are already paying way too much just to go here,” Em Causholli, a freshman at UK, said.

According to Blanton, UK is looking to improve the livelihood of student employees and assure that they are given fair and equal opportunities at the university.

“All student jobs offer the opportunity for students to develop transferable skills, connect with others and build a professional network. At the same time, we are always exploring new ways to improve the student experience,” Blanton said. 

UCW hopes to see tangible change at UK through the organization’s unionizing efforts.

“I knew that something big needed to be done on campus for the administration to see our campaign and to hear our message,” Maines said.