You deserve to make enough to live while doing the work you love.


Living Wages for All Campus Workers

The erosion of wages at American’s colleges and universities has gone on long enough. Stagnant and declining wages for academic workers have resulted in decreased job security, increased workloads, and a diminished voice in the day to day operation of our institutions. This decline has culminated in the systemic crisis higher education is experiencing today. It is up to us, the workers whose labor sustains our campuses, to save and transform higher education.

This toolkit is intended to help you begin that fight on your campus while creating a cross campus movement for the living wages we all deserve.

Steps in a campus organizing campaign

Talk to Your Colleagues

No matter what issue you want to address at work the most important thing to keep in mind is to never act alone. Making significant and sustainable change takes collective action. That’s why our first step is to talk to colleagues you know to find out if they share your concerns.

Form Your Organizing Committee

If your colleagues share your concerns, and want to do something together to win change, it’s time to build an organizing committee!

The job of the organizing committee is to make and stick to organizing plans. They keep colleagues informed and engaged, and make sure everyone knows what kind of employer pushback to expect and how to respond.

A strong organizing committee:

  • Is representative of your institution and reflects the different departments, job titles, and personal backgrounds of your colleagues.
  • Is not an exclusive club. The organizing committee should be open to anyone who wants to put in some work to win the changes you’re fighting for.

Choose Your Demands

What you demand in your fight for living wages may vary depending on where you work, what kind of work you do, and what specific concerns your colleagues have. Here are some things to consider when you are choosing your demands:

  • Your demands should be clear, specific, and measurable
  • Your demands should be something your colleagues are willing to take action to win
  • Your demands should be limited to the top 1-3 concerns of your colleagues

Example living wage demands include:

  • A cost of living raise that is at or above the level of inflation
  • An end to student fees that come out of already too low paychecks
  • A pay raise to what is considered a living wage in your region
  • A pay raise that makes your wages competitive with similar workers at local or peer institutions


So you have an organizing committee of colleagues committed to making change and a set of demands for your employer. What now?  You need to get the rest of your colleagues on board so you can take action together! To do this, you and your organizing committee will create a list of all of your colleagues, talk to each of them to assess their support, and keep track of these conversations and assessments so you know how much support you have overall.

We’ve broken down those steps here:

    1. Make a list: One of the first steps to mapping your workplace is to get or create a list of current, where they work, their job title and what shift they work. All employers will have some combination of department list, an emergency contact list, a staff directory, Outlook contacts, a seniority or pay roll list. Get a copy.
    2. Make a contact list: Using this Google Sheet, you can make a contact list to make sure you’re reaching all of your colleagues and giving them the opportunity to get involved.
    3. Keep track of your progress: When you have a conversation with someone or when someone participates in an action, make a note of that in your contact spreadsheet. You can use this information to track your progress, guage your strength, and decide when you’re ready to take action.
    4. Look for the “holes”: Once you have your information entered into your spreadsheet, look for departments or work areas where you haven’t yet talked with anyone, where you don’t yet have organizing committee members, or where no one is participating in your actions. Focus on talking with coworkers in these areas. Remember: this only works if you can get a large group of coworkers to get involved!

An example of a living wage action could be an informational picket–where you share how much you make per class vs. how much your students pay for that class–which ends with a march to present a petition to your employer.

Test Your Strength

When you present your demands to the administration you don’t just want them to hear you, you want them to give you what you have asked for. A strong job action is visible, involves a large group of your colleagues, makes your demands clear to your employer, and puts pressure on them to act.

To make sure you are able to get a large group of people together who are willing to take the kind of action necessary to put pressure on your employer, it is a good idea to start with smaller test actions, and work up to your more intense main action. This process of moving from small less intense actions to large more intense actions is call “escalation.”

For example, you might first ask everyone on your list to sign your petition (which will not be public until you present it to the employer). To make sure everyone who signs will also be willing to join the march to present your petition, you can ask them all to wear a button or the same color on the same day. This “button up day” action is lower stakes than marching on the boss, but it still requires taking a public action, and shows you how many people you are able to turn out. You know you are ready for your big action when you have a demonstrated ability to move a large group of your colleagues to action.

The Big Day

For your main action you want to have:

  • A thorough action plan
  • Clear demands to present to your employer
  • A deadline for when the employer should respond to your demands
  • A plan to follow up with everyone who participated in the action
  • A plan for what to do if your demands are not met

Know Your Rights

Under US labor law, private sector workers – whether you have a union or not – have the right to come together as a group (meaning more than one worker) to improve their working conditions. The heart of the law is Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act which says:

Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…

What kinds of activities are protected by the law?

You have the right to engage in many types of activities together with your colleagues, including to:

  • Talk openly about pay and benefits
  • Circulate a petition to improve working conditions (at non-work times in non-work areas)
  • Deliver the petition as a group
  • Distribute flyers (on non-work times and in non-work areas)
  • Refuse as a group to work in unsafe conditions
  • Join with your colleagues to talk to your employer about working conditions
  • Walk off the job to protest unfair working conditions
  • Participate in a press conference or rally to speak out about unfair working conditions
  • Form a union and recruit your colleagues to join

Public Sector Workers

Labor law that covers workers at public colleges and universities is decided at the state and local level. While many public employees in the US do not have an explicit legal right to unionize–or may even be explicitly barred from bargaining as an officially recognized union–you do have the constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech, assembly, and association. That includes the right to join a union, to speak to your colleagues about concerns at work, and to do things like rally and petition to address those issues.


International Workers