Town Center West: Rumors and Realities

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In the two weeks since the College’s Board of Managers approved the Town Center West project, a number of rumors and misperceptions have arisen. We want to take the opportunity to correct some of these misimpressions.

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Rumor: The College has refused to meet with the student group, Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP), refused to recognize their concerns, and refused to pass those concerns along to the Board of Managers.

President Chopp and a number of senior administrators have met with SLAP numerous times during the course of the last year. SLAP’s request that the College sign a neutrality agreement was made clear to the Board of Managers and they have been fully briefed on SLAP’s request. The Board, the administration, and SLAP are all in agreement on the following principles: fair labor practices, providing a safe and productive work environment, nonharrassment of employees by those both internal and external to the community, and the right of employees to unionize.

The open question is: should the inn and restaurant employees have the right to determine via private ballot if they want a union and, if so, which union they might wish to join? SLAP prefers a “card check” method of organizing and a commitment to a particular union without the right to a private ballot.

Rumor: In refusing to sign a neutrality agreement, Swarthmore clearly does not care about conditions for workers, does not support the right of workers to unionize, and does not care that our community cares deeply about these issues.

The College has a long history of creating positive working conditions for its employees including good salary and benefit packages and good relationships between management and staff. Further, the College supports employees’ right to organize and is committed to ensuring an atmosphere that is free of threats and intimidation by any party. The College understands that there are multiple ways to create productive work environments and to protect the rights of workers.

We believe our community standards provide a healthy, safe, and productive work environment for our staff. With that said, if future employees of an inn or restaurant were interested in forming a union, or if any employees were interested in pursuing this path, we will respect their right to do so. The College remains committed to fairness for all who work on our campus. We do not believe that the administration, students, faculty, or a third party should determine the staff’s destiny, but rather that the staff itself should determine that destiny in a positive atmosphere free of coercion or undue pressure from any party.

Rumor: The College imposed its will on the Borough of Swarthmore in 2001 when an exception was made allowing the College to apply for a liquor license on its campus (and in conjunction with the development of an inn.)

Borough residents can, will, and should determine whether or not they want a dry or wet town, or whether they wish to allow for an exception in the case of the inn, or any other establishment seeking an exception. In 2001 Borough residents determined that making an exception to its “dry” status for this hotel and restaurant was sensible given its desire that the Town Center West project succeed and contribute to the revitalization efforts underway in the Borough’s commercial district. A liquor license will make the inn and restaurant more appealing to visitors and will contribute to the financial viability of the project.

When the Borough voted on this measure in 2001 it did so with the goal to control the quality and scale of the operation. In effect it entrusted to the College the mandate to ensure that the establishment would adhere to strict liquor law enforcement and that it would enhance, rather than diminish the quality of life for Borough residents. If Borough residents wish to revisit this issue, of course we respect their right to make this determination at the ballot box.

Rumor: The College is going to spend enormous amounts of money on this project that will come at the expense of other College priorities.

The Board of Managers endorsed this proposal because it is not expected that this project will be paid from College operating funds. Individual donors have already expressed interest in different parts of this project and funds are not expected to be diverted from other College priorities. Other funding will be sought through grants from external agencies.

Maurice Eldridge is the vice president for College and community relations.

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