Student Labor Action Coalition

The Limited Term Employee and Living Wage Campaign:

A Model for Campus Organizing

April, 2010

The UW-Madison uses the limited term employee (LTE) system to deny union rights and benefits to its workers. LTEs work in departments all over campus. LTEs do the same work as permanent workers, but with lower pay, and no benefits or job security or union representation. Hundreds of LTEs on campus have been working in the same "temporary" job for 5, 10, even 20 or more years, with no chance for advancement. More and more permanent jobs on campus were not being filled with permanent workers, but instead with "temporary" LTEs. SLAC decided to take up this campus labor issue, and campaign in support of the LTEs’ rights.

SLAC’s first response was by legislative means. SLAC lobbied the State Legislature for LTE conversions. This led to a small victory when the Legislature successfully converted 50 jobs out of 1000 as part of the state budget. SLAC’s response was unsuccessful and flawed because it did not involve many LTEs personally engaged in the campaign.

SLAC’s first attempt to work with LTEs themselves is illustrated by the story of Wanda Ashman (“Wendy”). Wendy had been an LTE at the university for over 15 years, and decided to go to the newspaper the Isthmus about her story. Soon afterward, Wendy was fired from her job for speaking out. Wendy got involved in SLAC and explained her situation. SLAC had a rally at the Chancellor’s office. Wendy got her job back. Later, Wendy won a large settlement in a First Amendment lawsuit over her boss’s unjust retaliation. *

After this experience, SLAC decided that LTEs needed to liberate themselves. SLAC obtained a list of LTEs through the Wisconsin Open Record, the Wisconsin equivalent of FOIA. We “cold-called” LTEs on the list, trying to assess whether they wanted to be organized, trying to find angry workers/leadership. Many LTEs were hard to contact and we found little leadership. SLAC decided to wait for leadership from AFSCME 171 on the issue, and we took a break from the campaign.

In the Fall of 2005, AFSCME 171 Stewards Mark Thomas and Carl Aniel approached SLAC about the upcoming ASM election and an initiative to be voted on by students on tearing down Union South and rebuilding it with students’ segregated fees. Mark and Carl had the idea of voting down the referendum because of LTE abuse in the Memorial Union and Union South. The Wisconsin Union had more permanent LTEs than any other UW department. SLAC approached the progressive ASM slate about opposing the referendum, and we convinced them to oppose it. Coincidentally, the conservative ASM slate already opposed it on the grounds that it was a “tax-hike.” The University’s attempt to quietly pass the referendum failed. SLAC then put its own referendum on the ballot saying that all workers in segregated-fee funded organizations must make a living wage. In October of 2005, Wisconsin Union’s referendum failed and SLAC’s living wage referendum passed. However, ASM Student Judiciary decided to throw out the Living Wage Referendum.

Then, the next spring both referendums are put back on the ballot. SLAC decided to take a more active role in the ASM election. We checked out laptops and sat at high-traffic locations on campus. We offered candy to anyone who we got to vote. Some of these spots were in front of Gordon Commons, Chadbourne Cafeteria, and Library Mall in between Humanities and the State Historical Society. We had tables with laptops on them for the online voting. We created a schedule so that someone would be at each table getting folks to vote during the entire online election. We drove turnout so high with this system that the vote-counting system broke and the ASM elections committee said they would throw out the vote count. We had a very high student turnout at a meeting of the committee forcing them to back down, with the slogan “count every vote.” The voting resumed and all votes were counted. The living wage referendum won with 3,500 in favor to 3,000 opposed and the Union South referendum was voted down by a larger margin. In a move that brought many students to question the independence of ASM from the university administration, ASM Student Judiciary again threw out the results, and put both ballots back up for the next election in the fall.

Shortly after the spring election, UW administration called together a committee with student, labor union, and administration representation. The committee came up with a plan to convert all long-term LTEs over the course of a few years. SLAC pushed the committee to recommend that all workers on campus make a living wage. The committee did this because SLAC showed its political power at the polls through organizing. The committee dragged on, so SLAC prepared to vote down the Union South referendum a third time. The Chancellor recognized this threat and accepted the recommendations of the committee. It’s important to note that SLAC’s threat to mobilize students to vote down the renovation referendum was a key factor in securing victories on labor issues from the administration. The renovation scheme was and continues to be part and parcel of the administration’s Campus Master Plan, which aims to bring huge amounts of money to the university from private firms and wealthy alumni. By threatening the university where it is most important, “in their pocket books,” in 2006 SLAC was able to win the Living wage and LTE conversion policy for campus labor as well as the Designated Suppliers Program on the international labor solidarity front.

The history of the LTE campaign leaves us with goals for the future. With the knowledge of the past campaign, we know we must:

Make sure that the administration lives up to its commitment to convert all LTEs over the next 5 years.

When the UW administration refuses to live up to its commitments, we must use direct action in coalition with AFSCME 171, TAA, and other campus groups to force them to live up to their commitments.

When the university administration proposes large capital construction projects to be funded by students’ segregated fees and to be approved by students’ votes, SLAC must mobilize students to vote down these proposals. It is important both as a means to combat tuition increases, and as a strategic means to leverage the university into action on labor issues.

Original LTE campaign page:




LTE- limited term employee. An employee who does the same work as a full-time employee (FTE) while receiving less pay and no benefits.

SLAC- Student Labor Action Coalition

USAS- United Students Against Sweatshops. USAS is the national campus organization with which SLAC is affiliated.

DSP- Designated Suppliers Program. The DSP is a policy pushed by students which forces universities to source apparel from factories with unions and good labor conditions.

ASM- Associated Students of Madison. ASM is the student government for the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

AFSCME Local 171- Affiliated State, County, and Municipal Employees. AFSCME 171 is the union for all blue-collar workers on campus.

TAA- Teaching Assistants’ Association. TAA is the union for all teaching assistants (ie. Who lead discussion sections, grade students’ work etc.) on campus.

* more about Wendy's story: