April 26, 2011

Housekeepers concerned by job uncertainties

In the wake of an announcement that the housekeeping staff will be merged with the facilities department, a coalition of concerned students brought three members of the residence hall staff together to learn what’s at stake.

An audience of more than 50 people gathered in Harper last night for the event, hosted by several house and RSO representatives under the banner of the Worker-Student Coalition.

Although the facilities department outsources its employees through subcontracting firms, it is not yet confirmed to which company housekeeping jobs will be sent. Their union is in talks with the University to maintain workers’ union rights through the transition.

The housekeeping staff members emphasized that their University jobs provide more than a paycheck. “It feels like family here, for me,” South Campus Residence Hall housekeeper Mazurie Wright said. “That’s the most devastating part.”

Kimberly Brand, who has been at the University for 14 years, expressed anxiety over the fact that University administrators wouldn’t guarantee her a job. “The same thing they keep saying: ‘They’ll get back with us, they’ll get back with us,” she said. “Housing is not helping us at all.”

Tony Hoover, a 13-year member of housekeeping, said that his uncertain employment status was especially troubling in light of the nation’s recent economic instability. “It’s not easy right now for us to just jump into another field,” he said.

Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL) member and third-year Larissa Pittenger echoed the housekeepers’ worries and voiced her concern for the possibility of having unknown housekeepers in the residence halls.

“Having the same people in stable, dependable jobs where they’re interacting with the same students on a day-to-day basis just introduces a level of security that’s not there if you have disorganized [subcontracted] labor,” Pittenger said.

Pittenger said that while students don’t have a direct say in administrative decisions, their opinions may be worthwhile.

“That’s why we’re just trying to keep it pretty simple,” she said. “We just want [administration] to keep the same people with the same quality of a job.”