Campus workers, students protest wages

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September 24, 2010

12:21 AM

Disagreements with Residence Life hiring and salary practices led members of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee to hold a demonstration in the office of Vice President for Administration Anna Martin Sept. 17.

The demonstration sought to protest both ResLife’s starting pay and raise scale for housekeeping workers, and its decision not to fill seven vacant housekeeping positions. A group of TLSC members went to Martin’s office to voice these concerns Friday.

“Despite the fact that hundreds of applications have been received, the administration refuses to hire more workers and seven open positions remain,” according to a statement released by TLSC.

Martin said that, while there are vacancies within the housekeeping staff, she would not characterize them as purposely unfilled.

“There are always vacancies in the housekeeping area and we continuously recruit to fill those vacancies,” she said in an e-mail. “In fact several will be filled within the next few days. That being said, Vice President [for Student Affairs Ginger] Ambler [’88 Ph.D. ’06] and I will make sure that the recruiting process is working as well as it should so that we can fill vacancies as quickly as possible.”

According to TLSC, the workloads of housekeeping staff members have nearly doubled.

“Workers who are usually assigned to one building — which takes a full eight hours to clean and sanitize properly — are now being forced to clean one to two extra eight-hour buildings in the same amount of time,” TLSC’s statement said. “Thus, workers must skip their breaks and lunches and are overworked and underpaid.”

Martin said that workers are not being asked to forgo any breaks, and are fully compensated for extra time worked.

“What has happened is this. Work assignments have been changed in order to respond to the areas where there are vacancies,” Martin said. “This may result in a housekeeper working in two buildings rather than one on a given day. It is simply a process of prioritizing the most immediate tasks for that day. In other words people are working differently, but not longer.”

Martin was not in her office when demonstrators arrived. However, the group demanded that Martin respond to Kathleen Brower ’11 of TLSC by Sept. 21 at 12 p.m.

While the demonstration was mostly comprised of TLSC members, housekeeping staff and members of other student groups were also present.

These groups included members of the College’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Latin American Student Union, Lips Magazine of Female Sexuality and Voices for Planned Parenthood.

Friday’s demonstration was not the first time TLSC has organized a rally for higher wages.

Members of the group went to the office of Associate Director of Residence Life Allison Wildridge Sept. 9 with similar demands to Friday’s protest.

“[Wildridge] told us that it was not her problem and directed us to Anna Martin,” TLSC’s statement said.

While the possibility of an increased workload concerns members of TLSC, the starting pay and raise rates for housekeeping staff also stirs opposition.

“The housekeepers make between $9.00 and $11.00 per hour, which is not nearly enough to support a family,” TLSC’s statement said. “Some of the workers who have been here for 20 years are still earning in this bracket, only receiving meager increases each year that are rendered useless once inflation and increased insurance premiums are accounted for.”

According to TLSC, some members of the housekeeping staff would like starting pay to begin at $12 per hour, with raises of $.50 for each additional year of employment.

“This is extremely reasonable when one considers that the calculated living wage for one adult in Williamsburg, VA, is $9.95 per hour, and for one adult with one child dependent, is $18.49 per hour,” TLSC’s statement said.

However, Martin said that the recent recession and decline in state funding have adversely affected the salaries of most College employees — not just housekeeping staff.

“The fact is that the state has not provided any salary increases in five of the last ten years,” she said. “We need to do better and President Reveley has been clear that it is a top priority for the College.”

Martin and Ambler met with TLSC members Thursday to discuss the issues raised during Friday’s demonstration.

“Vice President Ambler and I believe we had a good first conversation and have found some common ground,” Martin said. “Did we agree on everything? Did we have an immediate solution for every problem or concern? No, but we committed to continue to work on those issues and to meet with housekeepers on a regular basis to listen to their concerns and their suggestions and to make constructive changes in the way that we operate when we can.”

While TLSC has announced plans for future demonstrations, Martin said that she thought conversations between students and the College’s administration could lead to constructive changes.

“I’ve always found that constructive conversation based on a clear understanding of the facts, mutual respect and good will is a much more effective and productive way of achieving positive change,” she said.

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