Organizing Public Workers on University Campuses

Solicited by the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA)

Friday, April 1, 2022, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Labor and Working-Class; Politics; Social and Cultural


Over the last fifty years academic labor has become more precarious with reduced faculty governance, increased contingent employment, and the decline of tenure. Together with declining public funding and corporatization of higher education, the public good of colleges and universities is at stake. This conversation brings together activist-scholars who have been involved in organizing at public universities to discuss the political economy of public universities, organizing goals and strategies, lessons learned during the pandemic, and new movements, such as Higher Education Labor United and Scholars for a New Deal.

Session Participants

Chair: Jessica Wilkerson, West Virginia University
Jessica Wilkerson the Stuart & Joyce Robbins Chair and Associate Professor of History at West Virginia University. She writes and teaches about women and gender, labor and the working class, and social movements in Appalachia and the South. A former member of United Campus Workers-Mississippi, she is now organizing alongside campus workers as part of the West Virginia Higher Ed Solidarity Network.

Panelist: Bryant Keith Barnes II
Bryant K. Barnes is a History PhD student at the University of Georgia. He is also a proud member of the United Campus Workers of Georgia, a wall-to-wall union representing undergraduate and graduate student workers, staff, and faculty. Bryant’s dissertation studies interracial political movements in the late-19th and early-20th century South to better understand the relationship between the rise of corporate capitalism and Jim Crow segregation and disfranchisement. As a union member, he is particularly interested in high student fees and the privatization of higher education. His scholarship and activism inform and influence each other as both focus on the possibilities and difficulties of organizing diverse interests in the fight to place people over profits.

Panelist: Grover Jasper Conner, William & Mary
Jasper Conner is a PhD candidate in the Harrison Ruffin Tyler Department of History at the College of William and Mary where he works on modern African American history with a focus on the lives of Black disabled people and ideas within the Black community about disability. His work is informed, in part, by the birth of his second child who is Deaf. Jasper is a member, and former president of UE Local 160 which fights for all workers at William and Mary. He is also a former member of UFCW Local 400.  He has presented research at annual conferences for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Labor and Working-Class History Association, and most recently the Organization of American Historians. Jasper received his BA from Virginia Commonwealth University in African American Studies in 2015.

Panelist: Naomi R Williams
Naomi R Williams, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University. Their primary research interests include labor and working-class history, urban history and politics, gender and women, race and politics, and more broadly, social and economic movements of working people. Naomi has served in various union roles including steward, contract enforcement, treasurer, delegate to CLC, and has just been elected to the leadership committee of AAUP-AFT Local 6323, New Brunswick chapter. AAUP-AFT is a member of the Coalition of Rutgers Unions and Higher Education Labor United (HELU).