The Tidewater Labor Support Coalition’s recent demonstration, on behalf of College of William and Mary housekeeping workers, looks to us as the situation for which the phrase “stuck between a rock and a hard place” was created. TLSC, a longtime advocate for improving working conditions for the College’s hourly staff, raises many viable concerns including underemployment and the lack of pay increases for long-time employees. But exactly where money for these increases would come from is a question for which no one, including TLSC, has a viable answer. Certainly, all College employees deserve fair compensation for the work they do, but we fail to see how any of TLSC’s current demands could possibly be granted given the College’s desperately strapped budget.
The demonstration, staged to petition Vice President for Administration Anna Martin to fill vacant positions and increase workers’s overall wages, comes at an inopportune time, one in which none of the budgetary problems the College has dealt with in recent years is anywhere near improving. The truth is that many of the faculty and staff are underpaid and overworked as a result of the current recession and resulting College-wide hiring freeze. Not only is College housekeeping understaffed, so are entire academic departments. To focus on one subset of this increasingly severe problem is counter-productive to finding a meaningful solution.
That’s not to say we don’t find some glaring problems with the way the College’s hourly workers are being paid. For one, there should be standardized system of pay increases for long-time employees of the College, to make sure that those who have worked here for decades are rewarded for that commitment.
The problem with TLSC’s approach is that, while doing an admirable job of raising the issue, the group fails to present any possible avenue toward a solution. Martin does have the ability to work toward increasing housekeepers wages and to fill those currently vacant housekeeping positions, but she can only make that change at the expense of other departments. Petitioning her office on the behalf of one subset of the entire staff and faculty fails to realize the larger problem — that, given the College’s current budget trajectory, we don’t have the money to maintain of funding the full scope of the College operations. This is the overarching dilemma the College community needs to start realizing, instead of focusing on one limited result of that problem.
To that end, we challenge TLSC and the entire College community to work together towards a workable solution, rather than a knee-jerk, and overly localized, protest.
If insistent on focusing on College housekeeping staff specifically, and acting in the context of a largely student coalition, putting a tuition increase to a student vote (similar to the recently instituted green fees) might be a possible path of action.
But, better yet, look wider. The underlying lack of funding for the College — which has led to understaffing in the College’s entire faculty and staff — is not a problem which Martin alone has the authority to address. Returning the College to full employment is an issue that requires serious campus-wide discussion, and continued petition to the Virginia legislature.
The continued operation of the College, from housekeeping to academic departments, is a cause to which our entire community needs to devote itself. Small-time protest is a far cry from the real solutions that problem requires.