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Cooke: CSU workers should unionize for better pay

A blue and green graphic depicting two people conversing with text bubbles that say "Collegian Columnists."
(Graphic Illustration by Falyn Sebastian | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

If you’re a student who works for Colorado State University in any way, you need to read this.


On Thursday, Oct. 28, the American Association of University Professors at CSU hosted a panel of speakers who discussed unionization and why it’s important for CSU’s campus.

The panel focused on the public workers collective bargaining bill, which has not been introduced to the state legislature yet but would extend collective bargaining rights to all public employees in Colorado, including anyone employed by CSU.

If the bill were to pass, any CSU worker would gain the explicit right “to form and join a union,” and the bill would “require employers to bargain with that union over wages, workloads, health insurance, safety protocols, sick leave, training and other benefits,” according to literature distributed by the AAUP.

President (Joyce) McConnell earns over half a million dollars a year while campus workers, on average, earn less than a living wage. This disparity is inexcusable.”

This bill is a crucial piece of legislation that needs to become law, but we don’t have to wait for it to pass to start organizing. Every CSU worker can and should organize and agitate for the right to a living wage and the ability to bargain with their bosses.

In case you haven’t noticed, the rich minority continues to take most of the money for themselves. Income and wage inequality statistics are chronic reminders that our economic systems aren’t built to benefit workers or even the majority of people at all.

The Economic Policy Institute argues that the “unceasing growth of wage inequality that undercuts wage growth for the bottom 90% reaffirms the need to place generating robust wage growth for the vast majority and worker power at the center of economic policymaking.”

Every CSU employee should understand that they have the power to run campus, not their employers. Workers are the force that drives everything.”

CSU is no exception to this. Campus employment, on average, pays $13.62 per hour. That is lower than the lowest estimated living wage for Fort Collins, which is $15.93 per hour. Meanwhile, the CSU Board of Governors gave President Joyce McConnell a salary raise earlier this semester, bringing her compensation to $566,500.

I repeat: McConnell earns over half a million dollars a year while campus workers, on average, earn less than a living wage. This disparity is inexcusable. Unionizing allows workers who are not paid a fair wage to challenge this disparity.

The basic logic of collective organizing is strength in numbers — it can be as easy as forming a group chat. Hypothetically, CSU employees working for organizations could share stories and agree on where they’re being mistreated — whether it’s unfair compensation, indifference from their employers or unbearable working conditions — and then approach the University with enough collective power to make the University listen.


Every CSU employee should understand that they have the power to run campus, not their employers. Workers are the force that drives everything. To echo CSU’s own grassroots cooperative @Unionize_CSU, “There is no CSU without these people!”

“Ultimately, this is a democratic issue,” said Alex Pelissero, a Ph.D. student in the anthropology and geography department and a member of the Graduate Workers Organizing Cooperative.

Power relationships in a wage-based economy are inherently unequal. They always have been, and they always will be until workers organize and leverage their collective power.

“We should have a voice in how the University is run and the conditions that we are in,” Pelissero said.

A unionized campus workforce would benefit everyone.

“The conditions of our students are based on the conditions of our workers,” said Alex Wolf-Root, an adjunct lecturer in philosophy at the University of Colorado Boulder and a founding member of United Campus Workers Colorado.

After saying he only earns about 5-10% of the tuition dollars students pay to take his classes, Wolf-Root said that “the conditions of our students are harmed when these workers like myself have to focus on, ‘Hey, can I work here next year? Can I find some other way to pay the bills?’”

CSU employees can’t provide a healthy climate for students if they’re worried about basic financial necessities, whether it be janitorial staff, groundskeeping crews or all the other workers who make up CSU.

“Things get done because people show up and demand that they be done,” said Andrew Boesenecker, a Colorado representative from District 53. “Step up into this space as much as you can, as much as is comfortable or safe for you to do, and tell your story.”

Every worker possesses the power that makes their job function. Unionizing allows you to realize that power and exercise it in ways that equalize the balance between you and your employer.

No meaningful and permanent change will occur until workers unite.

Reach Cody Cooke at or on Twitter @CodyCooke17.

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About the Contributors
Cody Cooke
Cody Cooke, Opinion Director
Cody Cooke is the director of the opinion desk for The Collegian and has worked for the newspaper since December 2019. He is a senior studying English and history with a concentration in creative writing. Cooke joined the opinion desk as a consistent way to sharpen his writing and to get involved with other student writers. He began as a columnist and remained a regular writer for more than a year before moving into his director position. He sees opinion writing as a rich and important combination of argumentation and journalism — a way to present facts that goes beyond objective reporting and makes a point. He also sees it as one of the most accessible platforms for any writer to start building a career. Working at The Collegian has taught him to be accountable and responsible for his own work while being proud of creating something worth sharing to a large audience. While not always easy, Cooke's time at The Collegian has been one of the most constructive and satisfying experiences of his collegiate career. 
Falyn Sebastian
Falyn Sebastian, Digital & Design Managing Edtior
After becoming a page designer as a sophomore, Falyn Sebastian evolved from print editor to design director and has now officially begun her new position as digital and design managing editor. Originally from the Big Island of Hawaii, she chose to attend Colorado State University to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in graphic design along with a minor in entrepreneurship. When it comes to arranging content in The Collegian's newsprint, Sebastian formats and arranges the visual media that readers love in a physical copy. After attending content and budget meetings with the editors of each desk, she manages how each week's visual content fits into the paper by clicking through Adobe InDesign. With a combination of original photos, illustrative graphics and advertisements, Sebastian organizes and delegates tasks to her talented and ever-growing design team. As a graphic design student, journalism was not a field Sebastian intended to work in during college, but she embraced the world of publication design through The Collegian. As graphic design focuses on the importance of effective communication, she realized she was truly designing for a fulfilling purpose. Student media will forever have a happy home in her heart. Working with other students who are passionate about what is happening in their community drives her to continue working on impactful design. Sebastian looks forward to what is yet to come while gaining new experience and memories with her staff.

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