At their final meeting on Sunday, May 1, members of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) passed Resolution 23.37 to Promote Fair Labor Practices and Sustainability in Wesleyan Construction and Maintenance Projects. It passed with a vote of 22 to 1 with 3 votes abstaining and it emphasizes a continual need for fiscal transparency at the University.
Introduced on April 24 and principally sponsored by Josh Nodiff ’19, the resolution proposes a collaboration with the Wesleyan Democratic Socialists Club and the United Student/Labor Action Coalition in an effort to unionize and recruit a diverse and local workforce to assist in the completion of established works projects set forth by the University.
The resolution also stresses the importance of a Certified Payroll Report, which serves to keep track of employee payments to ensure accountability and fairness in compensation. Its significance is explained in the form of a previous issue concerning the 2009 Department of Labor work-stoppage orders while the Allbritton Center was renovated. It was discovered that contractors were not in compliance with established labor laws. The passage of the resolution precedes the construction of a solar farm on campus as well as the renovation of Fisk Hall slated for the 2016-17 academic year.
One of the main points of the resolution called for the unionization of all contracted workers at the University, requiring that they all be recruited locally while stipulating that a significant portion of the workforce be comprised of minority groups to facilitate equity and inclusion. Specifically, at least 25 percent must be comprised of people of color, and at least 9 percent must be women, numbers that came from union organizers who indicated this as the standard. The recommendation also calls for the inclusion of religious minority groups, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities, among other marginalized populations.
Other recommendations set forth by the resolution involve providing onsite training for employees still learning the construction trade, mandating sexual harassment prevention training for all workers, and must deny contractors who have perpetrated injustices toward their laborers in the past. Environmental sustainability is also a point of emphasis, with the writers of the resolution highlighting their commitment to making sure that future construction projects are consistent with guidelines established by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
“As Chair of Environmental Sustainability for the WSA, I was proud to work on legislation that demands for major maintenance projects to adhere to LEED certification standards, while sourcing workers only from labor unions,” Nodiff wrote. “Going [forward], we intend to maintain a labor advocacy coalition and pass future resolutions within the WSA to protect workers on campus.”
The resolution is also adamant in its promotion of transparency, stating that it will require the Major Maintenance Committee to send out reports regarding upcoming construction projects and details about the labor involved. It also calls for active communication with student groups who work to secure workers’ rights.
WSA President Kate Cullen ’16, a supporter of the resolution, explained how its passage represents a way to show employees that their efforts are appreciated by the community.
“This resolution is significant as a move to keep the University accountable to institutional commitments it has previously made and to make clear that all people working and contributing to our campus are valued as community members,” Cullen wrote in an email to The Argus.
Cullen then shared her wishes for the future of the resolution and her hopes that it will make the work environment more equitable for all.
“I hope the resolution informs future construction and building projects to make them overall more fair and sustainable, reflecting other efforts and institutional commitments the University has already made,” she wrote.
Angel Riddle ’19, another WSA member and supporter of the resolution, applauded its focus on financial transparency as a way of encouraging further communication with the University community.
“Wesleyan, as a ‘progressive institution’ should absolutely strive to be as transparent as possible with its money and should make efforts to hire a diverse and unionized labor force for its upcoming construction and maintenance projects,” Riddle said. “I think we have a responsibility as a community to be as ethical with our spending and our hiring [practices]. Basically it’s super important that we are creating spaces for typically marginalized and under-protected people. Essentially, I think this bill is an effort to make Wesleyan’s hiring practices [as] ethical and transparent as possible as well as an effort to create more local jobs.”
Maia Reumann-Moore ’18 also appreciates this emphasis on transparency and how the resolution attempts to close the gap between workers and the University students.
“It’s easy to ignore the workers who power our campus, and the problem is especially bad for construction workers because they are hired over the summer and most students never interact with them or even see them at work,” Reumann-Moore said. “This resolution counteracts the distance between construction workers and the student body by ensuring transparency.”
Resolution 23.37 marks the WSA’s final resolution vote of the 2016-17 academic year. The vote on the resolution supporting the distribution of free menstrual products was postponed for next semester.