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Students push for unions

Kaitlynn Riely | Friday, October 31, 2008

Members of the Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP) at Notre Dame want to “break the taboo of the word ‘union,'” CLAP member Sarah Lyons said, so starting today they will begin an education campaign and collect signatures in support of a union for Notre Dame workers.

“A big part of this education campaign will be showing that unions are not a ridiculous, crazy idea,” CLAP member Mary DeAgostino said Thursday. “The law supports it. Catholic social teaching supports it. [Executive Vice President] John Affleck-Graves said he supports workers’ right to unionize. It’s kind of ridiculous our workers have to be so afraid of talking about a union.”

CLAP will kick off its campaign on a home football game Friday to pick up alumni signatures, CLAP member Nick Krafft said.

“If [the workers] see that a few hundred people are willing to sign something that says they support this effort, that’s just a real boost in confidence,” he said.

The rest of the semester, CLAP will focus on getting students, faculty and members of the South Bend community to sign the pledges.

The union support cards pledge that the signer does “recognize and support the right of all employees of the University of Notre Dame to be represented by a union in collective bargaining with the University over rights, wages, working conditions and other grievances; and to request an election held by the National Labor Relations Board for unionization.”

The cards are not actual union cards, the CLAP members told The Observer, but rather a sign of solidarity.

“Our goal is to create an atmosphere on campus that is friendly and open to the idea, and the right that people have to form unions,” Lyons said.

Krafft said he hoped to compile a substantial number of cards by the end of the semester so he could present it in a public forum.

Affleck-Graves said Wednesday afternoon that he had not heard about CLAP’s intentions to distribute cards in support of Notre Dame workers unionizing.

“It’s something obviously that they have a right to do,” he said.

And workers at Notre Dame have the right to organize, Affleck-Graves said.

“We don’t think that that’s necessary, but obviously, that’s up to the staff to decide, not to me,” he said.

But Affleck-Graves said, from his interaction with members of the Notre Dame staff, that he did not think workers wanted to unionize.

“They haven’t chosen to before,” he said. “It’s hard for me to respond, because I think that Notre Dame’s a great place to work.”

Krafft said he disagreed with Affleck-Graves’ characterization that workers had not chosen to unionize before.

“I think that choice is a funny word when you are talking about this campus environment, because given the climate of fear that exists, I don’t think you can fairly say that workers have had the choice to try to form a union,” he said.

CLAP, which is not a student group recognized by the Student Activities Office, began as a living wage campaign, but the group has now expanded its attention to other issues, such as unionization.