Workers Advocacy Group represents campus employees

BY CATHERINE BROWN ’14
Staff Writer

Last semester, a group of students founded the Workers Advocacy Group to show their appreciation and concern for a crucial group of the F&M community that is often overlooked: the workers who provide dining, housekeeping, and security services for the campus. This club, which is the brainchild of Laura Morse ’12, has already raised awareness to the College’s administration and is in the midst of improving the working conditions for these scores of employees.

Currently, the College has contracts with Sodexo, which provides dining services; Aramark, for housekeeping services; and AlliedBarton, which supplements the Department of Public Safety for F&M’s security needs. The workers from each of these three companies are not employed directly from the College, rather they work for these respective corporations and are stationed on F&M’s campus. This means they are not necessarily paid according to F&M’s standard of wages and benefits.

“The focus is on our Living Wage Campaign: a drive to amend the depressed wages and workplace injustices of our campus workers,” said Drew Mitchell ’13 in an email to prospective new members of the Workers Advocacy Group. “We are pursuing this goal in a number of ways — by in-sourcing the workers under F&M’s working practices and by encouraging the formation of worker-collectives when possible.”

“A lot of these workers are single parents,” added Nancy Presnick ’14, vice president of the Workers Advocacy Group. “Some of them have two or three kids. That’s why they work so many hours and why we always see their faces around campus. A lot of them also have multiple jobs so they can make ends meet.”

The Workers Advocacy Group has proposed multiple ideas to ensure these workers receive a fair wage allowing them to support themselves and their families. One plan is to engage in a process of in-sourcing, whereby the workers would be hired as employees of the College rather than working for their current employers.

In another plan, the group would form co-ops where the employees also own a portion of the company, and would have input into how the corporation is run, and work together to write and implement company policies.

The students in the Workers Advocacy Group have been working extensively with members of the administration, especially David Proulx, vice president for finance and administration, and Kent Trachte, dean of the College. Since February, they have been meeting approximately twice per month to discuss the various ramifications of moving toward in-sourcing.

“We have to be realistic because we currently have signed agreements with these companies and we’re working closely with these companies,” Proulx said. “For any conclusion we need to think of the legal, financial, and quality-of-service implications. My job is to make sure we are balancing cost of service and quality of service with our ability to influence and control how services are delivered, as well as fairness to employees’ working conditions.”

Proulx also emphasized there are benefits of continuing with the College’s current system of outsourcing these services.

“There are penalties if we decide to break off with our existing providers, which are not insignificant,” he said. “We need to think about this one-time cost, as well as investments in equipment, employee costs like hourly rates and benefits, supervision costs, and the quality of service.”

Since the Workers Advocacy Group wants employees to have higher wages, in-sourcing would likely increase the College’s expenditures. To offset this, Proulx is researching a variety of solutions, such as cutting the College’s costs in other dents’ tuition. He would also like to find new sources of revenue through partnerships with the Lancaster community or by renting campus facilities to other organizations.

“I can’t say how pleased I am by the Workers Advocacy Group,” Proulx said. “They’re doing a lot of research. Some of them went to a conference in Boston about these issues. They also hosted a workers’ appreciation luncheon, which was catered by an outside vendor, so workers would feel appreciated.

“I give the group a lot of credit,” he added. “They brought these issues up to management. While I believe management and I would have taken a look at contracts at some point, I probably wouldn’t have looked at it as soon as the group wanted to. I look forward to reaching a conclusion as we make sure we ultimately have safe and efficient services of high quality that are of good financial value to the institution and are comfortable with how those employees are treated at F&M.”

Due to the students’ efforts, the College is in the latter stages of negotiating better conditions for the workers with AlliedBarton.

Antonio Callari, chair of the economics department and director of the Local Economy Center, is the advisor for the Workers Advocacy Group.

“I believe that this is one of the more interesting efforts by students to make a positive contribution to the people they live around,” Callari said. “I think this is an excellent avenue to ‘citizenship.’ I hope this group can be effective, because the whole community would benefit and because it could serve as a model for civic engagement.”

Beyond the Workers Advocacy Group’s “living wage campaign,” the leaders of the group want to ensure that students gain an appreciation for campus workers.

“Students on campus don’t usually have conversations with workers, but they’re really nice people,” said Grace Jeong ’15, president of the Worker’s Advocacy Group. “There’s a barrier between workers and students. We don’t know about their experiences or what’s going on in their lives.”

Members of the F&M community can also learn more about workers’ rights concerns by attending “Economic Crisis, Living Wages, and Economic Justice,” a presentation by Stephanie Luce, associate professor of labor studies at the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education at the School for Professional Studies at the City University of New York.

The talk is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in Booth Ferris North, on the second floor of the Steinman College Center.

Dennis Deslippe, associate professor of American studies and women’s & gender studies, arranged for Luce to speak to his class, Gender at Work, and to the campus as a whole.

“In an age of declining wages for working people, a widening gulf between rich and poor, and the decline of workplace rights we must be attentive to the large-scale changes affecting our country and our world—and especially our own communities and campuses,” Deslippe said.

The Workers Advocacy Group holds meeingts Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. in Stager 110.

Questions? Email Catherine at cbrown2@fandm.edu.

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