ResLife workers and students campaigning together to end worker injustice

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September 9, 2010

8:33 PM

Thursday morning, Residence Life workers and members from the Tidewater Labor Support Committee sent a delegation to the associate director of ResLife, demanding that the College of William and Mary fill positions left vacant following the departure of summer workers. Without a full housekeeping staff, workers who are usually assigned to only one building on campus are expected to perform extra duties at other buildings, without being compensated for their additional workload. This means that workers clean up to three or four additional buildings in the amount of time it takes to clean one building adequately. These expectations are highly unreasonable for workers, and the situation that arises affects the quality of life for all members of the campus community; when the places at which we study, attend class, eat, and shower are not adequately kept up, everyone suffers.

The action taken by workers and students Thursday morning is one step in a larger plan to bring better working conditions and greater pay to the housekeeping staff on campus. After meeting together last week, the coalition of workers and students identified three primary goals: to have a full staff of workers available year round, to increase wages for workers, and to reform the system by which workers are hired and promoted.

Early this morning, a full-time housekeeper for the College, shared some of her experiences of working on campus this past summer. Speaking on the challenges workers faced in the summer heat without air conditioning, The housekeeper complained of overheating in the buildings.

For those buildings without air conditioning, ResLife provided only one fan per floor. Instead of providing water, the workers were given ice and told that they could get water from the bathroom sinks. At least one worker went to an urgent care facility as a result of becoming overheated. The summer heat posed additional hazards to workers with health concerns like Shelly, who has diabetes. Being overheated suppresses her appetite, but skipping meals with her condition is very dangerous.

Over the summer, housekeepers were expected to work from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., and sometimes even until 8 p.m.. In addition to this system of mandatory overtime, some workers who left early had these hours subtracted from their allotted paid leave. Many of the workers in ResLife have second jobs. When learning that her paid leave was being taken away, one worker confronted the associate director of ResLife and explained that her other job ¬— working at a dialysis clinic — demanded that she arrive by 5 p.m. and that she had informed ResLife of her secondary employment before the summer session began. While ResLife is now returning the worker’s paid leave, there are still problems regarding compensation for overtime work.

At a meeting another ResLife worker last week explained to TLSC that time-and-a-half pay is only granted to people who work on Saturdays. This means that housekeeping staff members who work more than 40 hours on weekdays, but who do not work on weekends, are not compensated for their overtime.

Adequate compensation for overtime is only one part of the problem concerning workers’ wages. Many of the workers are only making between $9 and $11per hour. According to Poverty in America: A Living Wage Calculator, a website sponsored by Pennsylvania State University, the calculated living wage for Williamsburg, Va. for one adult is $9.95 per hour. For one adult and one child dependent, the calculated living wage rises to $18.49 per hour. This means that while current wages are minimally adequate for one adult, they cannot support workers who are single, or the only working parent in a family. Some employees have spent 20 years working for ResLife and have not been offered promotions — these workers are still not making more than $10.50 per hour. These wages are drastically below the $15 per hour wage the state of Virginia recommends for state employees who have worked at least 20 years.

Low wages, the lack of compensation for overtime, poor working conditions over the summer and the extra work demanded of housekeepers as a result of vacant positions are only some of the many grievances ResLife workers have reason to speak out against. ResLife workers hope that faculty and staff will come together to campaign for better treatment of workers. If students can help compel Residence Life to take better care of the housekeeping staff, then the housekeeping staff will be better able to take care of students.

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