UK student workers rally for higher wages

Lexington, KY–“I make $11 an hour,” Kylah Spring says to the camera in a now viral video shot early Sunday morning at UK’s Boyd Hall. Spring is a student worker at UK and works the night shift at the dorm’s front desk. While her normal duties include buzzing students into the building and supporting residents, on Sunday she was the victim of a racist assault where she was repeatedly struck and called racial slurs.

Boyd Hall student worker Kylah Spring deals with an intoxicated student. Kylah makes $11 per hour.

While no amount of money would be enough to endure what Spring had to endure, her case is illustrative of a trend at UK: campus workers doing important, difficult jobs for poverty wages. The United Campus Workers of Kentucky is pushing to raise the minimum wage for students workers at UK to $15.00 per hour, according to a Kentucky Kernel report.

“We do a lot of the vital work on campus, and we feel like the university needs to put its money where its mouth is,” UCW member Erin Maines told the Kernel. “It says that it values its students, but … the minimum we found, (was) $8 an hour.”

While the group won $15 an hour for university employees in 2020, student workers were not included in that raise. The group launched its new effort to raise the minimum wage for student workers on October 27. Members of the groups took turns sharing horror stories from their time as student workers at the launch event.

Recent UCW Accomplishments

In April 2022, Marching to chants of “Poverty wages have got to go,” a group of around 100 people delivered a copy of a petition to UK President Eli Capilouto’s office, although Capilouto was not in his office at the time.

Among other requests, the petition called for a $20,000 minimum stipend per academic year for graduate employees, as well as annual increases to the stipend, and comprehensive health insurance for graduate employees, including dental and vision coverage. The petition had more than 600 signatures in support, according to the union. The march happened one week after United Campus Workers, the union for UK employees, hosted a “phone zap,” directing calls to Capilouto and other administrators’ offices last week.

As the staff, faculty, graduate and undergraduate workers at the University of Kentucky, our voices matter. In the last year and a half, acting collectively as a union, we have consistently called on President Eli Capilouto and other highly paid administrators to take appropriate steps to ensure the health, safety, and dignity of all staff, students, and faculty. In this effort, we have been continually vindicated as President Capilouto has regularly met our demands such as: calls for top-level administrators to take pay cuts before laying off or firing low-paid staff at the beginning of the pandemic, calls for free COVID-19 testing for staff and faculty in Fall 2020, calls for an increase in base pay to fifteen dollars an hour, and calls for an increase in graduate worker pay (graduate workers in Arts & Sciences just received a 10% increase), just to name a few (check out this Presentation for a more thorough UCW Kentucky History)!

It has only been through taking action as a union alongside other campus groups such as University Senate, Staff Senate, and undergraduate students to demand #FairPayandASay that we have been able to effectively advocate for students, workers and the broader Lexington community. For this reason, we are building upon our past success as a union to demand that Eli Capilouto work with UCW leaders to implement the full Fair Pay and a Say platform so that UK can be a University that truly fulfills it’s promise to serve the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

UCW KY at University of Kentucky