Devin Griggs wishes Murray State University had a labor studies program. “A lot of college kids don’t know much about unions,” said Griggs, a 20-year-old junior at Kentucky’s westernmost public university.
This son of a United Steelworkers (USW) member—Cliff Griggs from USW Local 9447-5—is leading a campus campaign to educate students about unions.
“A lot of people say unions are a special interest. Unions are a public interest. Unions raise wages for union and nonunion workers alike. Unions help all working people.”
Griggs is enlisting local and state union leaders to help him spread the word about the labor movement. He recently lined up a five-member panel for a symposium he called, ”There is Power in a Union.”
The panelists were UAW retirees Jay Latham and Jerry Sykes; Jeff Wiggins, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and USW member; labor lawyer and Kentucky Labor Institute founder Dave Suetholz; and Dr. Bill Schell, a Murray State history professor who belonged to the old United Paperworkers International Union. The College Democrats sponsored the program.
Griggs’ labors for labor haven’t gone unappreciated. He earned the 2011 Kentucky State AFL-CIO Youth Award. State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan thinks Griggs is a good candidate for the AFL-CIO’s Young Worker program, which is geared “to engage the next generation of young workers.” Says Londrigan:
Devin is bridging the gap between the labor movement and his fellow students. He is bringing people together to create a common understanding of our movement.
Griggs, who lives near Benton, Ky., is proud of his movement roots. “My grandfather and uncle are members of UA [Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 184] and my mother is a teacher who is in KEA [Kentucky Education Association].”
He said studying American history and politics in high school and college made him “even more of a union supporter.”
History shows how hard workers have had to fight for the right to organize unions and bargain collectively for better pay, benefits and working conditions. More people need to know about that.
A political science major, Griggs also writes about union issues in the Murray State News. In addition, he blogs on labor topics on the area council’s website here and in LA Progressive, an online magazine based in Los Angeles.
Last April, he helped organize a campus Solidarity Day rally for Wisconsin workers battling against Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) public employee union-busting bill. “We had a pretty good turnout considering that there were really bad storms and tornado warnings all over western Kentucky that day,” said Griggs, who can be contacted by email at email@example.com.