Town hall ignites the spark of an Augustana labor movement

Caitlin Campbell

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a town hall meeting regarding the Augustana student minimum wage.

Around 70 students were in attendance for the meeting, and the young democratic socialists of America (YDSA) brought in Rock Island city council member Dylan Parker, who has had experience with labor organizing in the past. 

“I was incredibly impressed that so many students showed up and were willing to vocally say that this is unfair,” Parker said.

Senior Bella Gmitrovic, chair of the SGA’s documents committee, helped moderate the discussion at the town hall on Tuesday night and was overall pleased with how the town hall went. 

“I really enjoyed how collaborative it was,” Gmitrovic said. “I wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to go, but I was really happy that students were actively coming up with solutions to problems, as opposed to just sitting there and saying their opinions.”

Senior Eric Reinertsen, member of YDSA, agreed that the town hall felt very productive and that he was glad to see so many people in attendance.

“It’s the first time we’ve gotten this many people in a room to talk about this,” Reinertsen said. “We’ve gotten workers in rooms before to talk about this, but it was really big to see 70 people come to the town hall, and I think we got a lot of work done. We got a lot of groundwork laid for future organizing for sure.”

During the town hall, students discussed multiple courses of action such as conducting sit-ins, striking and unionizing.

“I love that energy,” Reinertsen said. “But like we talked about at the town hall, there’s different levels of escalation, there’s more organization that we need. I don’t see anything like that happening anytime soon, but the groundwork is being laid, and that’s what I think is most important.” 

During the meeting, it was decided that something small that students could do is wear red on Fridays to show solidarity with student workers.

Both Reinertsen and Parker said that small steps, like wearing red on Fridays and talking about the issue with coworkers and on social media, is important during the beginning of labor movements in order to spread awareness.

Senior Isabelle Jordan, president of SGA, also hopes to get more international students involved with the movement.

“I noticed that we didn’t see a lot of representation at the town hall,” Jordan said. “I think without their support, or their vision and their input and their ideas, I don’t think this can move forward in a feasible way.”

With the relative success of the town hall, Gmitrovic said there’s an added sense of responsibility that has come with it.

“I don’t want people to think that we did the town hall just to do it and that we’re not going to do anything about it,” Gmitrovic said. “I feel responsible now for making action items as next steps and actually taking the actions and seeing them come to fruition.”