Wisconsin students advance fair labor practices, 2001-2006


To win a living wage for limited-term employees and create permanent positions for workers with long term limited-term classification.

Time period

7 February, 2001 to October, 2006


United States

Location City/State/Province

Madison, Wisconsin

Location Description

The University of Wisconsin, Madison
Jump to case narrative


Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAP), Local 171 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)


United Faculty and Academic Staff, Hotel Employees, Restaurant Employees

External allies

Teaching Assistants Association

Involvement of social elites

Not known


University Administration, Governor, and State Legislature

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

Not known

Repressive Violence

Not known


Economic Justice



Group characterization

Union Workers

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

Joining order not known

Segment Length

Approximately 9 Months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

5 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The Chancellor gave full time positions to limited term workers who had held their temporary positions for an extended period of time.

Database Narrative

Undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison founded the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC) in 1994 after watching a video in a sociology course about the lockout of 700 workers at A.E. Staley, a sweetener company in Decatur, Illinois. They formed the organization to support the workers’ campaign there, and later spread to university campuses across the country.

On 7 February 2001, the University of Wisconsin Federation of Labor released a survey documenting University abuse of limited-term employees. The survey reported that the University employed 1,200 limited-term employees (LTEs) every month from a private corporation called Aramark, 300 of whom had been working for five, ten, or even twenty years. Aramark forced them to reapply for their positions every six months and denied them the ability to join the union of University employees, the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 171. Limited term employees did not receive benefits such as vacation, sick leave, tenure, and health care. Limited term employees received $7.00-$7.25 an hour for the same job a permanent employee would receive $10 an hour with benefits. 

The next day on 8 February, the Student Labor Action Coalition held a teach-in to educate the community about labor practices on campus and launched a campaign to create permanent positions for limited term employees. They distributed leaflets, held teach-ins and arranged meetings with the chancellor and his representatives.

On 4 April 2001, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, students held a rally on the Library Mall and at the Capitol opposing Governor Scott McCallum’s plan for a tuition increase. They said that the issues of tuition and limited term employees workers were tied. The pay for limited term employees came from tuition and the pay for full time workers came from the state.  Student Labor Action Coalition continued to hold protests, teach-ins, and raise awareness about work conditions on campus especially during orientation week.

In September, the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC) won a partial victory when the Wisconsin legislature and the chancellor of the university agreed to create a pilot program to give 50 limited term employees permanent positions.

SLAC and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 171 continued to pressure the University on the issue of temporary labor because the fifty positions were insignificant.

In January 2002, Wanda Ashman, a limited term employee, was fired from her computer programming position at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences she had held for nine years after The Isthmus, a local newspaper, interviewed her about the limited term employees. In February, the Student Labor Action Coalition organized a rally attended by twenty-five students and workers at Dean Dick Barrows’ office in protest of the firing of Ashman.

On 4 April 2002, the Student Labor Action Coalition held another rally at the library mall in protest of the University’s temporary labor practices.

On 13 October 2005, the Student Labor Action Coalition introduced a referendum on the Associated Students of Madison ballot to prohibit the Student Services Finance Committee from university services and programs unless they paid employees $10.23 an hour. It passed with 1,379 votes for and 612 votes against. Fewer than 2,000 students of the student body 40,000 voted. The university responded to the referendum by removing power over the budget from the Student Services Finance Committee.

On 4 April 2006, students again passed a referendum for a living wage, this time with 5,312 votes in favor and 3,204 against. 

After the second referendum was passed, the Chancellor John Wiley began holding hearings to implement a plan to address the issue. He signed a final agreement in October to convert 370 positions to full time positions and negotiated with the governor and state legislature about converting an additional 100 positions. This plan would cover the limited term employees who had held their positions for an extended period of time. He also agreed to pay limited term employees $10.23 an hour. 


Students were influenced by union campaigns in the midwest. (1) The SLAC campaign influenced students on other campuses to start their own campaigns (2)


“Madison Student Labor Action Coalition History.” Student Labor Action Coaliton Website. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/older-history.html

Turner, Sarah. “UW’s labor policies unfair to limited-term employees.” November 15, 2000. The Daily Cardinal. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/cardinal-11-15-00.html

Skyes, Ben. “Survey criticizes UW's LTE policy.” February 8, 2001. The Daily Cardinal. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/cardinal-2-8-01.html

Helling, Carolyn. Orgs rally for tuition freeze: Groups object to tuition funds for limited-term employees. April 5, 2001.The Daily Cardinal. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/cardinal-4-5-01.html

Sawan, Youssef. UW guilty of wage, labor exploitation. September 16, 2002. The Daily Cardinal. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/youssef-lte-article.html

“Still temporary, again.” January 25, 2002. The Isthmus. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/isthmus-jan02.jpeg

Gonzales, Mike. “Wanda the Whistleblower: SLAC and LTE fight for worker justice.” March 2002. Insurgent. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/insurgent-3-02.html

Student Labor Action Coalition Poster. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/april4.html

McCormack, Kate. LTE labor practices unacceptable to long-term workers. April 5, 2002. The Daily Cardinal. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/daily-cardinal-4-5-02.html

Radway, Kate. “LTEs demand more from Union.” September 19, 2002. The Badger Herald. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/bh-9-19-02.html

Potraz, John. “Referendum could limit funds.” October 12, 2005. The Badger Herald. Accessed February 13, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/bh101205referendum.html

Potraz, John. “SSFC to lose budget power. “ October 17, 2005. The Badger Herald. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://slacuw.com/old/bh101705ssfcbudget.html

McKenzie, Danielle. “Chancellor to hear plan to convert UW part-timers to full-time status.” April 27, 2006. The Daily Cardinal. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://host.madison.com/daily-cardinal/news/chancellor-to-hear-plan-to-convert-uw-part-timers-to/article_7cff6c3b-8c60-5771-85b9-5dfd46f8cb1f.html

McMahon, Jamie. “Living wage plan passes, Union fails.” April 05 2006. The Daily Cardinal. Accessed February 9, 2013. http://host.madison.com/daily-cardinal/news/living-wage-plan-passes-union-fails/article_b7597a4e-7c81-5f03-834e-1bf9d795790c.html

“Changed UW Temp Policy Moves Hunderds to Union.” October 2006. Union Labor News. Accessed February 13, 2013. http://scfl.org/uln.php?ulnid=1240

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Jonathan White, 10/02/2013