Residence Life backs down from six-day work week for housekeepers

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November 30, 2006

7:39 PM

This week, Residence Life decided not to implement a new schedule for the College’s housekeeping staff. The plan that was originally supposed to be put into effect Jan. 16 set up a rotating series of shifts to cover residence halls Monday through Saturday. One group of housekeepers would work the current, full day schedule, Monday through Friday. The other group would work the regular full schedule Monday through Thursday, and work only half days on Friday and Saturday. The groups would alternate between the Saturday hours.

p. “We now need to determine if students think there is a need for Saturday services and, if so, how we can provide it without impacting the lives of our housekeeping staff and without the need to impose unreasonable increases in room rates on our residents,” Deb Boykin, head of Residence Life, said.

p. Boykin and Allison Wildridge, associate director of Residence Life, said that initial proposals to have housekeeping staff on campus Saturdays was due in large part to surveys that expressed dissatisfaction from students on the upkeep of buildings.

p. Boykin said that the decision to do something was based on voluntary student surveys from the last few years. She said that the most recent survey, administered at the beginning of November, showed that a significant number of the 1,260 students who answered the survey were dissatisfied with bathroom cleanliness and trash removal.

p. After the survey results, Boykin and Wildridge said a few different proposals were suggested, including alternating working on Fridays or Saturdays, but the six-day Friday and Saturday half-day week received the best response.

p. Both wanted to stress that workers would still keep their 40-hour work week and that they were not going to start having housekeeping work on Sundays.

p. While Westridge said that the initial proposition was not met with an overwhelmingly negative response, workers expressed their frustration with the situation.

p. Wednesday of this week, students and workers held a rally at the Crim Dell Meadow in protest of Saturday hours. The rally was a celebration of the drop in the policy change, but many who attended also spoke of a frustration with the way that housekeeping staff has been treated in the past. Approximately 100 students and 30 housekeepers on their lunch break attended the rally.

p. “This is an issue among many,” said Cindy Hahamovitch, a professor of history at the College. She credited the drop of policy change to the work of student and housekeeping efforts to petition Residence Life.

p. “This issue show[s] that the only way workers’ rights are going to be protected at the College is if we stand up and fight for them,” said Andrew Schoffner, of the Tidewater Labor Support group, who organized the rally. “When we do that, we win.”

p. A housekeeper who wished to remain anonymous also said that she felt student support helped stop the policy change.

p. She said that workers were told on Tuesday that Residence Life had changed their minds about the policy.

p. “I think they were forced to change their minds by the students,” she said.

p. She added that many workers were frustrated with the policy proposal, but they were afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

p. “Working on Saturdays would not make a difference,” she said. “How can you ask so few people to do so much work? It’s not going to be any easier.”

p. She said that any problems were the fault of having a housekeeping staff that was too small, a sentiment that Schoffner and Hahamovitch echoed.

p. “They aren’t treated very fair,” Hahamovitch said. “They have to work Saturdays and even Sundays in the summer.”

p. The housekeeper said that the staff would be fine working Saturdays as additional hours with paid overtime. She added the cleanliness of the buildings would be improved if the staff was increased.

p. Boykin said that increasing the number of staff wasn’t in the budget. Hiring new staff and training them would cause an increase in student room rent.

p. The housekeeper expressed a continued frustration with the policy. She said that she didn’t understand the budget constraints or why overtime wasn’t available.

p. “I don’t know where the money is going,” she said.

p. Schoffner, who has worked with the housekeeping staff on the issue, said that they did not have a lot of resources at their disposal but that student voices helped the cause.

p. “A lot of times you hear, if you’ve got a problem, you’re supposed to go to your boss,” he said. “Nothing has gotten done that way.”

p. Schoffner said that, should the policy be brought back up, the students and the staff still had “fight left in them.”

p. Right now, Boykin said that they are evaluating the methodology of this policy.

p. “We believe providing housekeeping services on Saturdays will improve the living environment for our residents but we need to determine if residents feel the same way,” she said.

p. Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler declined to speculate about whether or not Saturday work days or a six-day work week would be implemented in the future. He said he hopes to establish a campus dialogue about the issue.

p. “How important is it to us to have the residences halls cleaned six days a week and, if it is important, what is the appropriate mechanism for our doing that? If it is going to happen, how can it be done with the least amount of disruption to our staff? Before anything else happens, those are questions I want us to explore as a community,” Sadler said.

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