Wash U graduate students occupy quad, chancellor-elect’s office in Fight for $15 and childcare


THE FIGHT FOR $15 came home to Washington University last week as members of the Washington University Graduate Workers Union and SEIU Local 1 housekeepers were joined by community activists and fast food workers in a rally on the university’s campus to demand a minimum $15 and hour wage and childcare for campus workers. Hundreds of activists gathered at the University’s Danforth Center on Forsyth Blvd. and marched across campus where they occupied the quad and took over the chancellor’s office to raise awareness of the shamefully low wages paid by the university and alert the administration that they are committed to winning a $15 living wage and childcare. – All photos by William Greenblatt for the Labor Tribune

More than 100 Washington University Graduate Workers Union (WUGWU) members and SEIU Local 1 Washington University in St. Louis housekeepers, joined by community activists and fast food workers, rallied on the university’s campus April 15 to continue their fight for a $15/hour wage and childcare.

The march culminated in graduate workers erecting a tent city on Wash U’s Brookings Quad and holding a sit-in at Wash U Chancellor-elect Andrew Martin’s office to demonstrate their commitment to winning a $15 living wage and childcare. Eight students were arrested during the sit-in.

On Monday, April 21, the close of the first week of the tent city occupation, deemed “Martinville,” students held a Fight for $15 teach-in on the quad. Meanwhile, the Wash U Student Senate approved a resolution supporting $15 and childcare for more than 1,000 graduate workers, housekeepers and more campus workers. Support for $15 and childcare on Wash U is also growing across St. Louis, with prominent civil rights activists including Rev. Darryl Gray embracing the movement.

The rally and occupation come on the heels of University of Virginia’s announcement that the school will raise its campus wage to $15 for more than 1,400 working people, noting that “no one who works at UVA should live in poverty.”

Duke University will move campus workers to at least a $15 wage this July and has announced its plan to lift graduate worker pay to $15 in 2023.

Wash U graduate worker Trent McDonald says Wash U has the ability to do the same for more than a thousand of its own campus workers.

“Working people at a university with an $8.5 billion endowment shouldn’t have to struggle to make ends meet,” McDonald said. “We’re showing the Wash U administration that we’re ready to do whatever it takes to win $15 and childcare to support our families.”

Wash U is considered a top-tier university and a leader in the St. Louis region, Local 1 spokesman Nick Desideri said. It is the fifth-largest employer in the state. But many of the working people who keep the campus running every single day are struggling to support their families on wages as low as $10 an hour.

“By raising wages to $15/hour, guaranteeing union rights and ensuring childcare for more than 1,000 campus workers and graduate workers, Wash U could be a leader in lifting communities across the St. Louis region,” Desideri said.

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