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North Carolina Protest Demands Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Workers

Students and Workers Blast Censorship at UNC-Chapel Hill
by Kosta Harlan |
November 1, 2007
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Crowd carrying long petition into meeting.
Barbara Gear, transit worker and member of UE 150, helps carry in the petition sheets. Over 500 people signed the petition in protest of the UNC Chapel Hill administration's censorship of an article on collective bargaining. (Fight Back! News)
Student educating university official.
Student activist Scott Williams explains the demands of the petitioners to Jeffrey Davies, Chief of Staff at the General Administration office, while transit worker Barbara Gear looks on.

Chapel Hill, NC - A delegation of fifteen city and university workers, student activists and union organizers delivered a petition of over 500 signatures on Oct. 26 to the University of North Carolina System General Administration, charging that workers’ voices were being silenced at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The petition was addressed to Erskine Bowles, who is president of the UNC general administration, and who is responsible for all 16 state universities in North Carolina.

The petition demanded that Bowles overrule the UNC-Chapel Hill administration’s censorship of an informational article on collective bargaining that was slated to appear last summer in the University Gazette, an official newsletter of the university. The article was submitted by the university’s Employee Forum as part of their regular yearly contribution to the Gazette, but was cut by the editors on the grounds that it was an “opinion piece.” Union organizers, workers and students say it was deliberately censored in order to suppress the growing movement among workers at the university for union recognition and collective bargaining rights.

Speaking at a press conference outside the General Administration office, Barbara Gear, a transit worker and member of North Carolina Public Service Workers Union (UE Local 150), said, “We’re here to speak up. A lot of people don’t even know what collective bargaining is. Where I work, everyone is afraid. We live in fear that we’ll get fired for union talk, for being around union organizers. Things are real bad, but everyone’s afraid, no one wants to lose their job.”

Gear continued, “I’m speaking out because it’s got to start somewhere. We have to get together to stand up for our rights. Working to build the union, that’s our main task right now.”

The protesters demanded that the university administration apologize and sit down at the table with workers to discuss their needs. The petition also expressed the signatories’ strong “support for UNC and Triangle area workers in their struggles to exercise their right to collective bargaining and support the repeal of Jim Crow-era N.C. G.S. 95-98, which criminalizes that right for public workers.”

Domenic Powell, member of Student Action with Workers (SAW), said, “We refuse to tolerate the censorship of collective bargaining issues. It’s a violation of human rights. We’re demanding the reversal of the censorship and that the university administration promote, not censor, dialogue on collective bargaining.”

Activists from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Students United for a Responsible Global Environment (SURGE), and the Young Democrats endorsed the protest. Tamara Tal, graduate student member of SDS, said, “Petitioning allowed us to talk with hundreds of people - students, workers and community members. North Carolina has a racist law, G.S. 95-98, that doesn’t allow public sector workers to negotiate contracts with the state. Talking about the censorship raised a lot of awareness and the petition shows the broad support that exists for workers rights.”

Focusing on the next steps in the campaign, Tal said, “We’ll continue to grow and broaden ourselves as a movement. We have four student groups, town and university workers, UNC hospital workers and community activists all involved. We’re going to build these connections for the future so we can unite all those who want to fight for change and build the struggle.”