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.
To the Members of the Board of Managers:
In light of President Chopp’s recent “Statement of Principles,” responding to the Swarthmore Labor Action Project’s (SLAP) ongoing efforts to ensure protections that would help create fair, dignified working conditions and just compensation for workers at the proposed hotel at Town Center West, we wanted to take this opportunity to express our deep disappointment at the administration and Board’s decision not to make a concrete commitment to such protections.
When we persist to ensure that certain standards of democracy and fairness be maintained, both at this institution and in any of its corporate or financial ventures, it is always because we believe our request to be ethically consistent with the values we collectively hold so dear. We neither aim to financially compromise the College, nor hold the administration or the Board to unrealistic standards. We think it appropriate that, especially as the College pursues new initiatives, such as for-profit hostelry, the College will implement safeguards to not just state but ensure our Quaker values will be promoted and upheld moving forward.
This is why the administration and the Board’s decision against neutrality and workers’ choice to have a majority sign-up process, and failure to come up with a creative, comparable solution, is so upsetting. We value the College’s public statements on their website and recent editorials stating their support for the principles of “fair labor standards” and “the right of employees to unionize,” as these principles reflect the Quaker values we uphold as a community. However, President Chopp’s recent editorial implies a vision completely at odds with the College’s principles—a workplace environment in which employers have nothing to stop them from forcefully preventing workers from organizing freely and having a voice in their workplace. In addition, the statement misrepresents our efforts and repeats unsubstantiated, anti-union rhetoric, ignoring the empirical evidence supporting majority-sign up as a fairer, more peaceful process.
While the administration did not agree to attend a public question-and-answer session this semester, where members of our community would have had the opportunity to ask questions clarifying President Chopp’s position and its implications as outlined in her “Statement of Principles,” a group of approximately ten students did meet with President Chopp, Vice President Eldridge, Dean Braun, and Vice President for Human Resources Melanie Young on April 20th. We were told that a public question-and-answer session was not “feasible” this spring, but at the end of the meeting, President Chopp signaled that there may be time for such a community forum at the beginning of the 2011 Fall semester.
In the absence of any binding, written commitment to the principles put forward, and being refused the right to record this meeting in order to present our community with an accurate representation of administrators’ responses, we have created a memorandum of understanding based on our engagement with the administration thus far as well as the points of clarification that arose from the April meeting.
We hope that you will review this memorandum and that we may move together toward committed action to translate our principles into practice.
on behalf of The Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP)
Memorandum of Understanding of the Practices, Compensation, and Conditions at Swarthmore College’s Proposed Town Center West Project
1. The College will make certain that all employees of Town Center West will be covered by its full living wage and benefits policy, meaning that even if the College is not the direct employer, the College will ensure that the people working there will be paid in accordance with the College’s pay scale, receive the same quality health benefits, and will maintain the same commitment to staff professional development (e.g. tuition reimbursement). The employer may opt to compensate employees more than the College’s minimum, but their wages and benefits will be consistent with the College’s existing standards.
2. Neither the College nor any employer of Town Center West will intimidate staff or delay any unionization efforts. As part of that commitment, the College agrees not to hire and will prohibit any potential hotel operator from hiring a union avoidance firm or consultant (i.e. any professional individual or firm with expertise in the area of anti-union strategy and tactics to guide or implement a campaign to counter any unionization efforts).
3. If a majority of workers, either on campus or at Town Center West, request the employer’s permission to use a majority sign-up process to organize, such a request may possibly be considered, but there is no guarantee that workers’ right to self-determination will be respected.
4. A grievance procedure will be developed and implemented in order to handle any concerns about labor practices or the work environment that may arise.
5. Vice President for Facilities and Services Stu Hain will make sure the College’s values and commitments stated in this list and in recent editorials will be written into any contact negotiated with any potential employer.
6. Vice President Hain and Vice President Young will be responsible for oversight of the contract and contractor if at any point these commitments fail to be upheld or are violated in any way.