Following the privatization of more than 1,500 jobs at Texas A&M University this summer and thousands of other positions across the state, UT students are working with state-worker advocacy agencies as a measure to prevent the same from happening at UT.
Members of the UT chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops are collecting signatures on a petition started by the Texas State Employees Union with the goal of restoring funding cuts to higher education during the 82nd state legislative session. According to the petition, the funding cut during the 2011 Texas legislative session led to “radical increases in tuition and fees charged to students and forced the elimination of thousands of university teaching and staff positions” statewide.
Representatives from the organizations said they fear widespread privatization of staff jobs at UT.
“The only thing you have to be afraid of is if you don’t do anything, you are going to get hit in the head,” Jim Branson, assistant organizing coordinator for the Texas State Employees Union, said. “There is no such thing as hiding when this kind of thing goes down. There is not hiding. They will privatize and they will not spare anyone.”
Ted Hooker, organizer for the Texas State Employees Union, said the petition has received roughly 5,000 signatures so far statewide.
Branson said one of the best things UT workers can do to protect themselves from privatization is to join a union. He said only about 700 UT workers have joined the Texas State Employee Union.
Christine Williams, sociology professor and department chair, said joining a union and speaking out about University injustices isn’t always easy to do for many at UT.
“If workers make noise, they get fired, unless they are tenured professors,” Williams said. “That’s why it’s so important that students speak out, because they are not going to fire you. They need you and your tuition.”
UT spokesperson Rhonda Weldon said there are no official regulations at UT prohibiting employees from joining unions, and if informal actions were taken to prevent unionization, the administration would want to stop it.
Weldon said the only recent job privatization at UT was for 36 custodial workers at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus earlier this year. She said no employees lost their jobs in that process, and the 36 workers were transferred to the main campus.
Weldon said the move helped Facilities Services achieve the University-mandated 2 percent self-funded contingency reserve, a fund set aside to pay for future issues.
Branson said although privatization is not currently rampant at UT, it could occur quickly. He said members of the UT community should come together now to prevent it by taking action including joining unions, speaking out and signing the petition.