Students march for housekeeper jobs

Fifty students marched yesterday against a University decision to cut housekeeping jobs in front of the administration building.

Photo: Michelle Yeo/The Chicago Maroon
First-year George Rapidis, third-year Noah Moskowitz and fourth-year Talia Barzel (left to right) marched around in a circle together with other protestors protesting against the laying off of campus workers outside the administration building at noon on Monday.

Student protests about the facilities and housekeeping merger continued yesterday afternoon with a march to the Administration Building. Over 50 students gathered to demonstrate against a facilities change and new dining hall contract which could threaten the jobs of University housekeepers and dining hall workers.

The Student Solidarity March for Housekeepers and Dining Hall Workers marked another event in a series of public protests, as student groups openly criticize the potential job loss.

“Hey Zimmer, step off it! Put people over profit!” began the first group chant. By noon, about 25 students gathered to carry signs from Bartlett Quad to the Administration Building in a planned march.

A half hour later, in front of the Administration Building, about 50 students in total demonstrated in protest to criticize the University’s actions. The group ended the event chanting, “We’ll be back!”

Students have spoken out about administrators’ treatment of housekeepers, claiming that workers with decades of experience deserve to keep their jobs. “The University, by just arbitrarily laying them off and not really doing anything to provide for them, is violating their dignity,” first-year and Worker-Student Coalition member Vitas Zukowski said.

Members of the Worker-Student Coalition, a group composed of nine different activist RSOs, recently met with SG members to discuss gaining support from the group. According to second-year and Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL) member Lexie Grove, SG members were largely receptive to the idea but ultimately decided against passing a more formal referendum.

Instead, some SG members now plan to draft a letter in support of the housekeepers and dining hall workers., according to SG class of 2013 representative Sam Scarrow.

Now, in light of the SG meeting and initial support, Grove is also hopeful that a meeting between the Worker-Student Coalition and University administrators is on the horizon.

In an e-mail advertising the event, the organizers of the march claimed that recent public protests and demonstrations have proved to be the most effective methods in garnering change.

Grove said that the University’s acknowledgement of student interest in the issue has been a promising development. “[Administrators are] admitting that it’s something that’s not completely out of their hands.”

The SOUL press release cites a comment made by Vice President for Student Life Kim Goff-Crews at a “Coffee and Donuts” event with President Zimmer on May 13 as evidence that the University could meet their demands.

According to the press release, Goff-Crews announced, “We may end up stipulating that in the contract… but we’re not going to stipulate that right now.”

The group’s press release interpreted this comment to mean that the administrators could meet their demands but have not yet decided to do so.

At the same event, Zimmer declined to comment on the issue, as negotiations are still ongoing. Grove called the University’s limited response frustrating. “It’s becoming more and more apparent that they completely could just meet our demands,” she said.

The Worker-Student Coalition is comprised of SOUL, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, Southside Solidarity Network, Students for a Democratic Society, Graduate Students United, Organization of Latin American Students, University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights, and UChicago Climate Action Network.

Past events by the Coalition have included a talk with housekeepers and a rally in front of the Adminstration Building, both events in late April.

Event organizers agreed this would not be the last event of the academic year. SOUL is calling for a written statement from the administration assuring the job security of the housekeepers and dining hall workers before the summer.

  • poor student

    My parents and I like it when the University doesn’t try to save money. Whatever happened to spending frivolously?

    • Another Poor Student

      In that case you should not have any issues with keeping the current housekeepers. The administration has already announced that they are not making this change for fiscal reasons. (Question #4 in their FAQ.)

  • JohnDoe

    I feel bad for workers losing their jobs (who wouldn’t?), but it already costs a lot of money to go to the UofC. Some people have to pay full-freight, we don’t all get financial aid.

    • undergrad

      Yeah it’s too bad the administration isn’t saving any money with this. Prices are still going up 4% next year

      • poor student

        I’m sure costs would rise even more if the workers kept their jobs.

      • JohnDoe

        How do you know they aren’t saving money? Without this change, for all we know, it could have gone up more than 4%…

        • Robert

          Hi John, the administration announced publicly that they won’t be saving any money, that’s how we know (see question #4 in the FAQ they released.)

          • PODGENUT

            I think this is question #4 in the FAQ that Robert and others have referenced:

            “Why are these changes happening now?

            “As an institution, we are continually examining all aspects of our operations and looking for the best ways to provide services that support the University’s core academic mission. Recent assessments of our operations show that splitting these maintenance functions among different administrative units is not the best way to provide quality service or make good use of the University’s resources. We have a responsibility to be the best possible stewards of our resources in a way that is sustainable for the University in the long term.”

            For those not fluent in bureaucratic doublespeak, “make good use of the University’s resources” translates roughly to “save cash on housekeeping costs and spend it in other places that are more central to the University’s mission.”

            So yeah, this is about saving money, and while I agree that treating people like interchangeable cogs is pretty beat up, this is a research university. The powers that be want to pay for research, and each dollar that goes to cleaning is one dollar less for what Zimmer&Co. consider to be the real business of UChicago.

  • Leon Kass Professor Emeritus

    “Fifty students marched yesterday against a University decision to cut housekeeping jobs in front of the administration building.”

    Was the University going to cut them on the steps or on the lawn?

  • Lester

    Spending frivolously!? Whatever happened to treating people fairly? Nothing frivolous about decent wages for decent work and not firing people arbitrarily from jobs they’ve held for decades.

  • Possible econ major

    I wonder how the economics department feels about this… if the University’s current plan would raise efficiency in the long run, then I don’t see a problem with it. Of course, we would have to help out the workers in the short-run as they adapt to the changing situation

    • Econ Major

      Careful there. Laying off workers is reasonable when there’s an increase in productivity, as wages will go up and all workers will be able to have similar (or better) levels of consumption with less work. Problem is, there won’t be any increase in productivity here. It’s not like there’s some wonder technology which is going to make housekeeping easier, and which will reduce the number of housekeepers working in the dorms.

      • already an econ major

        Actually, we don’t necessarily need an increase in productivity for this to be an economically viable decision. Let’s say the new workers are at the same productivity as the former ones. Big deal, right? Not really, except they happily do the work for slightly lower wages. We are therefore effectively paying less, lower opportunity costs, for each unit of productivity.

        BUT WAIT. The benefits don’t stop there. With the resources (in this case, money) not spent on extra wages for housekeepers, we could fund more research or otherwise provide better resources for undergraduates. After all, this is a research institution, whose goal is to further knowledge and to educate students.

    • Renaldo

      Possibly not…..

  • Bosco

    Is it known how much these housekeepers make and if it’s necessary to have as many workers as they do? What is each housekeeper’s responsibilities in a days work? You don’t pay someone to do work if their work can be done without them so long as the rest aren’t reasonably overworked or paid enough by their absence.

    Is there a link I can go to that will give me extra information?

    I’m skeptical of college protests in general. Nothing in this article tells me why it’s unfair that some housekeepers will be laid off. Sounds like a case of rose-colored glasses of what ought to be from idealistic college students. My father lost his job at one point for no reason and took him a year to get a new one but did since he had marketable skills. He grew up poor mind you; he worked for that security in skills. If they’ve been working there for decades, didn’t they have time and money to learn marketable skills?

  • Renaldo

    OK – C’mon – take a look at how poorly Facilities serves its customers. Review all the many past complaints about them. Now they’re going to lower cost & improve housekeeping’s performance – gibberish. This is just some sort of power grab – throw the bums out!

  • Interested Citizen

    It is important to verify from Administration this fact:
    Housekeeping costs at the UofC are among the lowest of all its peer institutions. That cost in 2009 was $1.08 per sq foot.

    You normally want to displace high cost providers – what is this about?

  • John

    With tuition costs already high and increasing, it makes sense that we should look to trimming the budget, and really, the only waste that I can think of are those damned housekeepers. This way we can still embark on our annual tradition of re-paving the quad and invite comedians like Richard Daley to speak at our school. Win-win in my view.

  • Alumn

    It makes me proud to see students doing this, if we as an institution want to educate future leaders we must teach by exmp,e, loyalty, respect for hard work, and dignitary interests are part of that education ns the university should lead by example. It’s time u of c commits to follow its own past lead which has done us proud