January 25, 2013

Workers share their stories

Campus service workers spoke to students about their work experiences and ongoing contract negotiations between the University and the labor union at an event held at the Reynolds Club on Tuesday.

The panel included a wide range of employees, from housekeeping staff to office workers.

Mazurie Wright, a housekeeper at South Campus Residence Hall, spoke about working in the dorm before and after the transfer of housekeeping and building maintenance from the Office of Campus and Student Life to the University’s Facilities Services, which contracts with custodial vendor ABM.

The transition, which went into effect on August 15, 2011, has detrimentally affected the workers, she said, citing a pay decrease and an increase in workload since the transfer. The number of housekeepers for South Campus has decreased and her workload has tripled, she said.

But she said workers are “very appreciative” of having their jobs.

University spokesperson Steve Kloehn said that the duties of housekeepers were reorganized during the transition. “The University contracts with ABM for a certain level of housekeeping and cleaning, and has been satisfied that those levels are being met,” he wrote in an e-mail.

In addition to workplace grievances, the panelists also spoke about certain provisions Local 743 is fighting for in negotiating a new contract with the University. Their current contract is set to expire on February 28.

Melanie Cloghessy, a receptionist for the University’s music department, is a member of the negotiation committee for the new contract. During the event, she said that this round of negotiations is mainly focused on helping union members who are paid the least, especially University employees who are eligible for food stamps.

“Anyone who works for an institution like the University of Chicago should be earning a wage that is adequate enough to where they shouldn’t have to be out applying for food stamps,” she said in an interview after the event.

Cloghessy also said the workers are fighting to include a provision that prohibits front desk clerks in the dormitories from being asked to shovel snow, after an incident last winter in which a clerk was asked to do so at 4 a.m.

However, she added that the negotiators have yet to include such a provision, saying that it was “too trivial to bring to the bargaining table.”

When asked about whether front desk clerks can be asked to shovel snow, Kloehn said that they are not responsible for removing snow but building maintenance workers are.

Angela Mitchell, an audience member, was terminated from her job on January 15 as a housekeeper in South Campus, which she had previously held for two years, she told the MAROON after the event. She said her boss, a housekeeping supervisor for ABM, terminated her for inadequately mopping the floor of the front lobby, which she did every morning around 7 a.m. She said that it is impossible to keep the floors clean with so many students entering and exiting the building.

The supervisor declined to give his name or comment on the termination, citing ABM policy restricting him on speaking about such matters. Kloehn also had no comment.

The event was hosted by Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL).