The UChicago community let out a collective sigh of what? last Thursday, when the administration announced, in a staff meeting and e-mail to House System residential staff, that dorm housekeepers may be let go by September 1. The gist of the situation is that housekeepers and building engineers, currently under the management of Campus and Student Life, will become part of Facilities Services. With this reorganization, housekeeping will be outsourced to a third party company, who will have the ability to “reassess” the status of current employees.
I’ll be the first to admit that my grip on this situation is weak at best. The bulk of my knowledge has been provided by a resident assistant (Code Name: Black Panther) and a representative from SOUL—Students Organizing United with Labor (Code Name: The Falcon), and even they, in spite of their fierce code names and sundry official e-mail exchanges, don’t have the clearest idea of what’s going on. In fact, what is most clear about all of this is the general lack of clarity. While the rumor that all housekeepers will lose their jobs is untrue, and has not been stated in any e-mails my sources have leaked to me, the possibility of job loss is present, and with that, the decision for reorganization is already causing outrage.
People’s reactions to this announcement have been strong and emotional, and how they feel about it is strongly influenced by how they already feel about the administration and its policies. This was apparent when The Falcon, Black Panther, and I sat down and talked the situation out, coming to absolutely no conclusion about it. Black Panther’s boyfriend (Code Name: He Didn’t Say Much) was also present. The conversation has been edited to increase drama and tension.
Black Panther began, describing in detail the reason why transitioning housekeepers and engineers to Facilities Services is actually a good idea. “Facilities has more resources,” she said, sitting perfectly still, not unlike a graceful and deadly feline, “There are 10 separate dorms with 10 different sets of issues. They’ve been having problems with people currently in the dorms having to learn things on the job, such as dealing with a particular elevator breaking down in a particular building. It will be a lot more efficient if all of this was under one company that has all the resources available to fix these specific problems.”
The Falcon swooped in, “But that’s the problem. The administration is focusing on the transition to Facilities, and they’re not addressing the people who are being laid off.”
Black Panther blinked. “Housing can see that the current system is an inefficient way of running things. They’re making the transition to improve efficiency, and beyond that, it’s the new company’s decision to lay people off.”
The Falcon pondered, perched precariously on the chair. “It’s true that the new subcontractor will be deciding who their employees will be, but the University is employing the subcontractor. This is in their hands. It’s an easy way to put less blame on themselves. Students who are friends with employees in the dorms have approached SOUL to tell us that these employees have said they’re being fired.”
Black Panther spoke, “Nobody wants to just fire workers. Max Brooks [the assistant director of employee relations] got really sad-looking. I wanted to give him a hug.”
He Who Didn’t Say Much looked up. “I gave Max Brooks a hug.”
We ignored him.
“I should go,” I said.
There was a lot of tension in the C-Shop that day. Stability vs. change. Control vs. lack of control. Suspicion vs. trust. Immediate reactions to this decision will be colored by our preconceived notions about the University. There’s no way to know what the administration’s intentions are, and no way of knowing how this situation will play out, at least with the information we currently have. As long as we can maintain sensible and mutually respectful discourse, as The Falcon and Black Panther did, hopefully we’ll be able to figure out what the heck is going on, and what we can do about it.
Alison Howard is a third-year in the College majoring in English.