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"Change Can't Wait": An Empty Promise at American University


Disrespectful working conditions greatly impact students too.

Amer Univ 2022 Blog Post

Tell AU President Sylvia Burwell (and 13 other university leaders):
Avert the Strike! Settle a Fair Contract!

Contribute to the AU Staff Union Strike Hardship Fund!

I'm Roshan Abraham, an instructor and first-year advisor at American University in Washington, DC — an institution that prides itself on the political engagement of their students, their initiatives for Inclusive Excellence, and being the most politically-engaged campus. Visit AU's site and you'll immediately see a fast-moving video that ends with the declaration: "We're ready to take on your cause, your passion, your challenge. Challenge Accepted."

AU staff is demanding that the university take up our cause. The staff at AU play such a pivotal role in supporting our students and come ready to take on their students’ causes, passions, and challenges. 

Roshan Abraham, PhD
Roshan Abraham, PhD

The problem is that we are poorly paid and overworked, and our offices are frequently understaffed. I have 18 years of experience in higher education, but in just the three years I have worked at AU, I have seen the majority of the staff in my office leave—nearly 75%. Only a small handful are left who have stayed in the position for more than a year.

I have watched talented individuals come to AU, people who are there to support students in their causes, passions, and challenges, and watched them leave because they simply could not afford to stay at AU. My office is not alone in this. The high turnover and the low staff morale that results from it ends up hurting the students who come expecting to see the university live up to the values it espouses.

Scroll down a bit on AU's site and you'll see its $500 million "Change Can't Wait" fundraising campaign, linking to another video inspiring students to view change "as an opportunity to be seen, take a stand" … "break down barriers by opening eyes and ears" … because at AU, "Changemaking is in our DNA."

Yes, change can’t wait, it's true! We can’t wait for this institution to change its disrespectful working conditions that funnel financial profit. Our SEIU Local 500 AU Staff Union is opening eyes and ears to AU's worker exploitation, taking a stand, like I am here, to make it known:

>> We unionized in 2020 by a majority vote, but we still don't have a union contract due to AU's union-busting tactics at the bargaining table. This "changemaker" has taken every opportunity to frustrate, drag out, and delay settling a fair contract.

>> Due to its latest controlling and abusive tactic—explicitly excluding employees in AU’s bargaining units from eligibility for the merit-based raises we'd received every previous year—we filed unfair labor practice (ULP) charges and just voted to call a ULP strike if AU doesn't settle a fair contract by student move-in the week of August 22nd.

AU's customers, its students, surely aren't benefiting from this greed. Says 2nd year student Rohin Ghosh from the Bay Area, "Students need the support of teachers to succeed academically. It's not possible for that support to be given when they're struggling to make ends meet. When working at AU isn't sustainable, it's extremely difficult for them to focus on doing their jobs with the attention and quality they'd like to put in and that students need. High turnover hurts students' ability to establish long-term academic relationships with the people who can support us in our academic development."

AU has the resources and obligation to treat its workers fairly with economic security— supporting them so they can support and meet their students' challenges.

> AU Workers Want Real Change, Not Spare Change.
Tell President Burwell: Avert the Strike! Settle a Fair Contract!

> Contribute to the AU Staff Union Strike Hardship Fund!