On the last day of fall break, I strolled through a normally populated part of campus to find University employees sitting in a dark room (I’ve left their job and location on campus ambiguous). They looked incredibly bored, as they sat in an empty room with literally no work to do.
“Can’t believe they make you work on fall break with no one here,” I said.
They agreed and explained that they had been sitting in the same place for so long that the motion-sensor light had gone off. This kind of treatment to employees is against the policy of a lot of unions. Actor unions prevent directors from calling actors to work when they have no work to do. It amazes me that there aren’t similar protections for workers at Wesleyan. And I feel shame for not knowing the University would force people to come to campus when not even the students have to be here. It’s far from the most egregious abuse that Wesleyan employees face, and those abuses are often erased or ignored by students and the administration. Everyone on campus mistreats or ignores the individuals that keep Wesleyan functioning.
Just six years ago, 40 custodians marched to President Roth’s house to present a list of their demands. It was a massive protest considering the scale of the University, and yet it has been totally erased from the consciousness of most of the student body. Because there’s a lot of turnover in the student population, a few years ago feels like distant history.
And despite the massive protest, custodians are still being overworked and poorly treated. According to a statement from USLAC (United Student-Labor Action Coalition), the workload of custodians increases while the number of workers remains the same. And the workload of University custodians is simply not the same as custodians at offices.
This campus is so much larger and more cavernous than offices, and the students who live here are messy. Messy is a way to put it nicely—“assholes” might be a better term. At the start and end of every year, students leave copious amounts of dorm-related crap in the hallways. Every weekday, the trashcans overflow in Exley. Students too lazy to walk upstairs leave their dirty dishes stacked on a trashcan in the first floor of Usdan. University custodians have to deal with all this, and it’s as though some of the student body doesn’t know that. There must be a group of people here that think their mess magically evaporates overnight. Either that, or there’s a lot of assholes around.
Another student body problem is the total erasure of workers at Wesleyan. In my experience, some wealthier students can totally ignore the workers at Wesleyan. It’s as though the laborers fade totally into the background. Among many students, there’s a complete devaluing of University workers. In reality, the lives of those workers are just as valuable as anyone else’s. And though I have been ragging on students, no one devalues workers as much as the corporations that employ them.
A few years ago, Bon Appétit threatened to cut several of the benefits that employees enjoyed, including overtime pay, which some employees need to be able to support themselves. Additionally, part-time workers are pushed to the maximum number of hours before Bon Appétit would have to pay for benefits like health care. The practices of this corporation are intended to get the most amount of work out of people for the least amount of compensation.
The University unexpectedly announced a move for its bookstore that completely blindsided the employees of the old Broad Street Books location. Those employees were initially told that they would all be offered jobs at the new bookstore, which turned out to be false. Though every employee was offered an interview, they were not guaranteed a job. Additionally, some workers were offered jobs at the new bookstore for lower wages than the jobs they had at Broad Street.
Finally, the custodial staff is repeatedly mistreated. Service Management Group not only places an unreasonable workload on Wesleyan custodians, they absolutely fail to respect or even listen to the needs of their employees. María Sarabia, a former Wesleyan custodian, was fired last August without warning. Her manager claims she was sleeping on the job, but if the manager took the time to listen, perhaps they would understand that María was simply sitting in a dark room because of her sensitivity to light. According to USLAC, she was also drinking coffee for her low blood pressure. But even if she was sleeping on the job, shouldn’t her manager be concerned and ask what’s wrong? Shouldn’t a manager care what conditions are causing employees to need sleep on the job? Instead it seems María’s manager first assumed she was sleeping and then assumed it was because she’s lazy. María’s life after being fired has been difficult, as she was recently evicted from her home.
Every facet of Wesleyan has failed its workers. University employees are mistreated by their managers, disrespectful students, and the administration itself. As a community, this student body must come together to support workers and see them as equals to us. There are actions the Wesleyan community can take like signing the student petition (or faculty petition or alumni petition) in support of María. But we must also undergo the important work of recognizing the humanity of the workers around us and prioritize their needs.
Connor Aberle is a member of the class of 2019 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.