The fundraiser was launched on October 27th and is ongoing.
“[The union] became aware of needs that a number of [fired workers] were experiencing,” KSU UCWGA member and associate professor Dr. Heather Pincock said. “And so the fundraiser was a way for the union, but also for the broader community, to show solidarity with these workers and raise money to meet some of their most immediate needs.”
On August 10, 2020, KSU initially made the 24 workers who were fired aware that they were being permanently fired within 60 days, open records show.
The workers were permanently fired, what the university calls a “reduction in force,” on Oct. 10, 2020.
The union has distributed funds to two workers so far.
KSU UCWGA member and KSU associate professor Dr. Amy Donahue said the union has been trying to contact the workers who the university fired since the union found out about the layoffs.
KSU UCWGA’s support was initially through helping those workers appeal the decision but as they heard of the financial crisis those fired went through as paychecks stopped coming, the union started a fundraiser.
“One person had been hospitalized for nine days, had accumulated quite a few medical bills,” Donahue said. “Another worker was struggling to pay rent and wasn’t able to afford health insurance and so as a response to the members of the KSU community, we felt an obligation and a desire to help as much as we’re able.”
Donahue also said the union has had a bit of difficulty contacting all those laid off, and encouraged fired workers to reach out to the union.
Both Pincock and Donahue stated that it was cruel for KSU to fire people amid a pandemic, when many workers around the country are being fired and jobs are difficult to find.
“I think it’s been really disappointing to see how the leadership at KSU has, in some ways, taken advantage of the pandemic scenario to carry out layoffs that were not necessary and to do those in a way that was unfair,” Pincock said.
Donahue said that KSU had raised tuition rates and student enrollment rates are higher, even amid the pandemic, so the layoffs were unnecessary.
“In addition, lots of folks have retired, there are several vacant positions that could’ve been cut,” Donahue said. “Instead the university chose to lay off these workers in these very difficult circumstances and as a result, many of them are suffering tremendously.”
Salary caps are an alternative to firings that KSU UCWGA would have liked to see, particularly for those who make six-figure salaries.
KSU President Dr. Pamela Whitten makes about six-figures and has not taken any pay cut, Pincock said. Whitten’s salary could have been reduced rather than firing workers, she said.
“The vast majority of workers who were laid off are on the lower end of the earning spectrum at KSU,” Pincock said. “So that just speaks further to asking those who are already more vulnerable to pay the price of the economic effects rather than looking for ways to accomplish those cuts through salary caps of the highest-earning workers.”
Donahue and Pincock said that the fired workers they have contacted have been struggling with paying for expenses they need to survive.
Outside of expenses, being fired in the middle of a pandemic affects one mentally as well.
“I think we’ve heard a little bit from workers about the emotional toll that it’s taking on them,” Pincock said. “It’s really hard to stay positive when you’re in such a difficult financial situation with … prospects looking so dire in terms of how to meet your immediate needs and the needs of the people who depend on you.”
Pincock also said finding other jobs is a concern they have heard from the workers.
Some workers the union has reached out to feel the firings are unjust and unnecessary, Donahue explained.
“I think there’s a sense among some workers that KSU, first off, didn’t need to lay people off,” Donahue said. “And second of all, really have no interest in providing them with support and helping them find additional jobs, whether at KSU or elsewhere. And that takes an emotional toll too.”
Raising money for the affected workers is reflective of the kind of KSU community and workplace that the union wants to see, Pincock said.
“One where we look out for each other and we take care of each other,” Pincock said. “And so since the leadership at KSU has failed to do that, I think part of the goal of the fundraiser is to show that that’s a priority of ours … until [KSU does] the right thing and do right by workers.”
Pincock and Donahue said that they are concerned that KSU will fire more workers.
Despite the union’s petition with hundreds of signatures telling Whitten to not layoff workers, the university laid them off anyway, they said.
United Campus Workers of Georgia has raised money to help workers pay for everyday expenses after the KSU fired them.“I don’t think anyone has cause for confidence that KSU would not fire additional workers,” Donahue said. “It’s shown almost an eagerness to fire workers.”
The union members emphasized that the KSU UCWGA fundraiser will last as long as needed and that any worker who has been laid off by KSU, whether they are full-time, part-time, student or professor, is encouraged to reach out to the union for assistance.
“We welcome hearing from anyone who was affected and who is in need,” Pincock said.
Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.