Chattanooga, TN - On Tuesday April 26, UTC Chancellor Steven Angle and Vice Chancellor Tyler Forrest made public the university’s budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

Murfreesboro, TN - As students return to campus with no COVID safety measures in place during the omicron surge, members of United Campus Workers distributed free N95 masks

Campus workers, community members, and allies are invited to join us this MLK Day for a celebration honoring Dr. King's legacy and the continued fight for racial and economic justice.


IB ImageThis past weekend scores of campus workers spent their Saturday at our union's second annual Convention. Members run this union, and we use this annual state-wide meeting to set the political direction of the United Campus Workers. Members came from all three grand regions of the state, representing higher education employees at a dozen specific universities and community colleges. The day began with members giving shout out to "our people": the custodians and grounds workers; the tenured and tenure-track faculty; the clerical workers, office assistants, administrative professionals and secretaries; the craft workers; the contingent and adjunct faculty; our friends, families and all working people.Because we know that knowledge is power, members participated and lead workshops discussing grassroots lobbying, power at work, grievances and organizing.

IB ImageDuring the afternoon session members moved and voted on a motion that affirmed the issues brought forward by literally hundreds of campus workers over the past months as the central components of a Campus Workers Bill of Rights. Over the coming weeks union members will continue the important work of drafting this Bill of Rights so we can better educate our campus administrations, elected officials and the general public.

The vote included such important issues as Living Wages, market value pay and pay equity; affordable health care, real due process rights, and a halt to corporate privatization schemes that harm our institutions of public higher education and the essential staff that make our campuses run day in, and day out.; and an end to discrimination on campus and our right to organize. Our program will demand that all Tennesseans have access to quality, public higher education, and that workers are treated with dignity and respect. After all, we know that our working conditions are the learning conditions for our students, both within and beyond the classroom to the dorms, grounds, libraries, offices and shops on each and every higher ed campus. Convention attendees repeated over and over again: these are not simply a list of demands, these are our rights to be treated as human beings with basic decency.

IB ImageOur movement has made real progress in the last year, winning the first pay raise in 4 years with flat dollar minimums across both UT and TBR systems. Our power has grown as our membership expands to every public university and community college. In closing Convention union members joined hands as we sang the old labor hymn "Solidarity Forever" to proclaim that "The Union makes us strong!"

Workers win pay increases, struggles for Living Wages, adequate funding and rights continue

Last fall UCW, Tennessee’s higher-education union, launched an ambitious campaign for Living Wages and a real cost of living increase, to address the insurance hikes, to win rights for higher education workers, and to demand that our public colleges and universities receive the state funding that they are owed.IB Image

Given the economic attacks all working people are facing, we knew narrow complaints alone would not only fall short, they’d actually hold our efforts back. Rather than whining that “we should be put first for a change,” we said that “All Tennesseans need good jobs, with living wages and our public services.” We pointed out that everyone deserves affordable health care, instead of solely focusing on our out-of-control health insurance costs. We spoke plainly about the institutional poverty on our campuses: staff forced to work 2nd and 3rd jobs, long-time employees still barely paid $8.00/hour, adjunct faculty hustling jobs at multiple institutions for a few hundred dollars a credit hour. We demanded adequate funding.

We reached out to students and community allies to organize speak-outs, pickets, and vigils and to send emails and make phone calls targeting the legislature, UT and TBR system officials, and the governor. And on March 15th we organized a statewide coalition that brought 1,500 people to Nashville for one of the largest weekday rallies our state capitol has seen in years.

Because of these efforts all higher-education employees won the largest raises many have ever seen! For the first time TBR instituted a system-wide flat dollar raise in addition to a 3% across the board increase. This minimum amount of $750 will affect 2,500 TBR workers making wages less than $12.82 an hour. At UT our workers won increases in base pay to $8.50, a flat minimum dollar raise of $1,000 for other employees and a 2-3% across the board pay pool.

All of this must also be understood against the backdrop of the nation-wide attacks on public workers. Even within Tennessee, let’s remember that state agency employees only received a 1.6% increase. Surely many of us remember 2006 and many other years when higher ed received smaller raises so state agency managers and others could receive special “pay plans.” So what’s different between 2006 and today? For starters, our union!

IB Image

As the saying goes, “A closed mouth never gets fed.” Needless to say, higher education workers have made sure not to keep our mouths shut. We’ve been organizing, because we know that there is power in numbers. Since 2006 our union’s membership has more than doubled, with members now on 14 higher-education campuses. And we’re not turning back until we win living wages, employment rights and real shared governance on our campuses – collective bargaining!

There remains much work to win fair grievance procedures for staff and faculty, real layoff protections, and the end to discrimination on the campuses. This year our members wrote HB 1722/SB 1751 sponsored by Rep. Barbara Cooper and Senator Ophelia Ford. This legislation would extend real rights to UT employees facing layoffs, rights on par with civil service protections. The House Education committee has asked if this matter can be address through non-legislative means. We are in touch with the sponsors and our members are planning next steps. Impending layoffs of members in the UTK Social Work Office of Research and Public Services and the department of Advancement Services remind us of the importance moving forward on these essential efforts. 

Likewise, we must continue pushing back against the constant tuition hikes to make up for cuts in state funding and to give top-paid administrators like UTK Chancellor Jimmy Cheek $27,000 raises. Our schools are public schools: they need state funding! Only by coming together and building coalitions can we win. Our union gives us a voice and united we will win!

Not a member?

United Campus Workers is Tennessee’s higher education union; the only voice made up and run by staff and faculty at Tennessee’s colleges and universities. UCW members are active organizing for our interests on our campuses and on Capitol Hill. To join, visit the UCW website at or call 1-877-292-3865 for more information. There is power in numbers, lift your voice today!

“You have got to be kidding me!” That was the response of many University of Tennessee employees upon learning that UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek is in line for an 8% pay raise, at the same time the University is raising tuition and congratulating itself on giving faculty and staff a mere 2% across the board increase (with a $1,000 minimum) and the possibility of a merit raise from a 3% pool. (Click here for Knoxville News Sentinel reporting of proposed Chancellor pay increase)

United Campus Workers President Tom Anderson said, “President DiPietro wants to give Chancellor Cheek a $27,600 a year raise. That is more than my total annual salary, and it’s almost twice what the lowest-paid UT employees earn in a year.” Anderson has worked as a Buyer for UTK Facilities Services for ten years. He added that a 2% raise, even with the $1,000 minimum, is still less than $20 a week for anyone earning less than $50,000 annually – and that’s most of the faculty and staff. The median salary for regular employees at UTK in 2009 was about $38,000. “This raise won’t even cover the increase in employee health insurance premiums,” he said, “never mind the other costs that have gone up in the four years since our last raise.”

Many workers won’t even see the raise: it’s only for regular employees. That means the adjunct faculty who teach many of the class sections won’t receive any increase in their pay, nor will term (temporary) employees or undergraduate student assistants.

Cheek’s proposed raise is explained as including a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), as well as reflecting market research showing that he was underpaid compared to similar positions at other universities. Anderson said, “I’ve talked with people who’ve worked here 20 years. No one remembers ever getting a real COLA, where the raise we got was more than inflation. So why are administrators who already make a quarter of a million dollars getting a COLA when custodians who are barely scraping by on less than $17,000 aren’t?”

UCW Steward Wayne Walker, a full-time employee in the Social Work Office of Research and Public Service, said, “The University received a lot of good publicity last year when the president’s staff turned in their UT vehicles and took a 5% pay cut. This looks like an attempt to quietly give back that pay, with interest, on the backs of students who will be facing double-digit tuition increases. And I don’t see them offering any kind of compensation to the people who were laid off last year or just this month in my office.”

Todd Freeberg, UCW Secretary and faculty member in the Psychology Department, said, "They use the argument that they are giving these large raises to match better what these folks would make at comparable institutions. This is so that UT can stay competitive at keeping quality people, which is a perfectly valid argument. However, they unfortunately fail to use that same logic when it comes to raises for faculty and staff."

Earlier today the Tennessee Board of Regents Personnel and Compensation Committee met at Nashville State Community College. UCW was present at this meeting. Among the items on the Committee's agenda were employee salary increases for FY 2012.

The committee voted to recommend a system-wide salary increase of 3% or $750, whichever is greater. This recommendation now goes to the full Board for final approval.

The inclusion of a flat dollar minimum raise, a long time cornerstone of our union's work to win Living Wages for higher education employees will directly benefit 2,500 TBR employees across the state. Additionally, the added raise pool - 3% instead of the state mandated 1.6% - is positive news for all 17,000 TBR employees. Make no mistake, the long campaign for a real cost of living increase helped lead to today's decision. This campaign included the campus speak-out events last fall, the University of Memphis Vigil for a Living Wage in January and the rally that delivered over 1,200 postcards to President Raines on April 8, your trips to Nashville for the March 15 rally, the pickets at ETSU and U of M on June 1, the letter signed by dozens of TTU employees to Chancellor Morgan just two weeks ago, and the innumerable postcards, emails and phone calls to legislators, campus and system administrators.Proposals to allow campuses to implement additional salary increases, including long overdue equity pay adjustments and services bonuses not to exceed $1,000 are welcome news. We will continue to monitor developments as the full Board meets tomorrow.

While this raise will not bring the thousands of TBR employees currently earning poverty-level wages to the Living Wage, it is a real step on what will likely be a long road ahead of us. We knew that this struggle would not be won quickly when we started. Likewise, 3% is still a far cry from bringing salaries for faculty and staff in line with peer institutions, and with no cap included it will also increase the wage-gap between top paid administrators and the rest of us.

Our organizing efforts at TBR schools from Johnson City to Memphis, From Chattanooga to Murfreesboro, from Clarksville to Columbia must continue. This victory shows the results that we can achieve through collective action and a strong, unified voice for all higher education employees! 

In an email sent to all UT system employees this afternoon UT President DiPietro made the pay raise announcement official, pending Board of Trustee approval, and we won what we've been fighting for: flat dollar minimums ($1,000 for most employees, as much as $2,600 for the lowest paid). This is wonderful news, and with the increase in base pay to $8.50 it is also a major milestone in the campaign for Living Wages on campuses across the state. We hope that TBR Chancellor John Morgan and other members of TBR leadership will deciede to take a similar approach with pay raises on their campuses.

We need to remember some context. This time last year Govenor Bredesen had just finished threatening a 5% pay cut as leverage in budget debates. University officials and state politicians alike were making statements that it would likely be years before another pay raise. This is our victory. This news comes after months of hard work where literally thousands of public higher education employees were involved. We refused to go another year without a cost of living increase. We sent emails and made phone calls, we attended union meetings, planned informational pickets, press conferences and rallies. Over 100 higher ed employees even spent our vacation time traveling to Nashville to lobby for a real, flat dollar cost of living increase. 

And this fight is not over yet. We await news from TBR concerning their pay raise plans. Recent statements from campus administrators have mentioned a 3% pay increase, and this positive motion is the result of pressure we have kept on TBR officials to stand with hardworking staff and faculty. But we need an equal dollar raise from TBR as well. The last 4 pay increases for public higher education employees have included a flat dollar compontent at UT, but sadly TBR did not follow suit. We hope Chancellor Morgan will show leadership and get on board with these efforts this year and in the years to come.

A final point, in his message President DiPietro made a special point to give credit to members of the UT Employee Relations Advisory Board for pushing for a minimum dollar increase. Leading our union is oftentimes tireless, thankless work - but it feels important to take a moment and say "thank you" to UCW-CWA President Tom Anderson. Tom, who works in the UT Knoxville Physical Plant, sits on the ERAB. He has made sure that discussion of flat dollar pay raises have been on every ERAB meeting agenda this year. 

Good work; let's get back to it. We've got a flat dollar pay raise still to win at TBR.


From: President Joseph A DiPietro

Sent: Wednesday June 15 2011 3:19 PM
To: President Joseph A DiPietro
Subject: Fiscal Year 2012 Pay Increases

June 15, 2011

To: UT System-wide Faculty and Staff
From: President Joe DiPietro
Re: Fiscal Year 2012 Pay Increases

As you know, the State of Tennessee has authorized a 1.6 percent pay increase for
state employees. The University of Tennessee will fund the additional amount
necessary for a total across-the-board raise of 2 percent for all eligible staff and
faculty statewide with satisfactory job performance evaluations. This increase takes
effect for most employees on July 1, 2011.

The following guidelines govern plans to implement across-the-board pay increases:

* Full-time and part-time regular employees paid less than $8.50 an hour before July
1, 2011, receive an automatic increase to $8.50 an hour. Eligible members of that
group also will receive a 2 percent across-the-board increase or $500, whichever is

* Eligible, full-time and part-time regular employees currently paid $8.50 an hour
or more will receive a 2 percent across-the-board increase or $1,000, whichever is

The decision to include a flat minimum pay increase as described above is based on
input from your Employee Relations Advisory Board (ERAB), the University's official
employee representative group. It also reflects a commitment from the Compensation
Advisory Board to help our lowest-paid employees.

In addition to the across-the-board provisions, leadership at each campus, institute
and for the System are developing plans for additional merit- and equity-based
increases. After four years without state appropriations for a pay raise for our
employees, a pay increase is the University's first priority this year despite
limited budget resources and the need for cuts in other areas.

Final details of any additional increases - the amount and who receives them - will
be determined and communicated by the campuses and institutes. Specific amounts will
vary, and it is up to each unit to find funding for its proposed plan.

The Board of Trustees must approve proposed pay increases as part of its vote on the
entire University budget. Pending budget approval by the Board at its meeting on
June 23, increases take effect July 1, 2011, for all staff and for faculty with
12-month appointments. Increases for faculty with nine-month appointments take
effect Aug. 1, 2011.

Thank you for all your good work for the University of Tennessee. 

In an official UT memo obtained yesterday afternoon by the union it appears that workers in that higher education system have won their campaign for a flat $1,000 raise. The United Campus Workers hopes UT will confirm this raise plan with statewide announcement to employees, and that TBR will implement similar plan to ensure pay fairness for Board of Regents employees across the state.

UCW President and full-time UTK Facilities Services employee Tom Anderson said, “The state legislature passed a budget that included funding for higher education pay increases. While we welcomed the news of any type of raise, if distributed as a percentage for most of us 1.6% is not even enough to keep up with the increased price of our monthly insurance premiums.  Both UT President DiPietro and TBR Chancellor Morgan have previously pledged a desire to do more to increase that raise pool. We are pleased to see UT President DiPietro stand by his commitment with this memo, this shows real leadership. We also need to make sure Chancellor Morgan follows through on his pledge”

The bad economy has seen many go without, adding to longstanding trends of low pay in many job classifications.  “The cost of living has increased 8.47 percent since the last raise in July 2007,” explains Paul Trogen, Associate Professor of Public Finance and union member at East Tennessee State University.  “Increases in our salaries have been zero. Governor Haslam raised the salaries of his department heads and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey raised the salaries of his staff by re-classifying their positions.  But neither the Governor nor the Legislature appear to feel that attracting and retaining faculty to teach the college students of Tennessee is important enough than to pay any more than the lowest salaries in the nation.”

After four years with no cost of living increases for most employees UCW is advocating for an equal dollar raise rather than a percentage.  “A 1.6% pay raise is great if you’re already making a good salary,” explains UCW Memphis Vice President Elect and full-time University of Memphis Custodial Services employee Thelma Jean Rimmer, “but if you’re only making $14,000 a year, it’s not even enough to cover the increased cost of food and gas, or the health insurance.  If TBR would take that same money and divide it equally among all faculty and staff, if they would follow UT’s plan it would go a long way toward bringing us up to a living wage.”

United Campus Workers – Communications Workers of America Local 3865 is Tennessee’s higher education union, with more than 1,200 members who work on 11 TBR and UT campuses across the state.

UCW members at Tennessee Tech have elected local organizing committee representatives. If you have questions about the union, get in touch with your local representatives!

Dixie Ashburn, Staff Representative, Secretary 3, Curriculum & Instruction

IB Image


Terri Stidham, Staff Representative, Custodian, Johnson Hall

IB Image


Jon Jonakin, Faculty Representative, Professor of Economics

IB Image