On Wednesday afternoon, union workers at Harvard University voted 583 to 1 to ratify a new contract that confirms year-round wages at $35,000 annually as well as a cap on out-of-pocket healthcare costs. Following a three week long strike that concluded in the revised wages and benefits, staff members returned to university dining halls, half of which had been closed a a result of the action. We at the Phoenix would like to commend those workers who went on strike for risking unemployment for their proper rights and their union UNITE HERE Local 26 for successfully engaging one of the most preeminent and well-endowed universities in the U.S. With regards to our own campus, we must follow Harvard students’ example to support those who work and contribute to our campus to ensure that their rights are respected and appropriate working conditions are maintained.
Many Swarthmore students pride themselves on having close relationships with the staff. The people who work among us are more than Environmental Service Technicians or dining hall staff. They are part of our community. They not only play a vital role in making sure our campus is beautiful and we are all fed, but they provide a distinctive energy and different perspective to our campus conversations. Our Swarthmore experience would not be quite the same without the smiling faces, positive attitudes, and hard work of the staff members who work diligently to make the campus and facilities function.
Students have a history of supporting the staff. Most recently, there was a petition to the administration to include staff in the 2016 commencement ceremony. Students vocalized their desire to include staff at the college in the ceremony alongside the faculty. Despite the students’ effort, the petition was unsuccessful due to the lack of space at the ceremony. The campaign worked to show the impact that staff members have on many students’ experiences at Swarthmore, but it is important to continue to fight for staffers’ rights here.
Although the college pays its staff an hourly wage that is within the market average, this rate is not sufficient. Like the workers at Harvard, most staff at Swarthmore do not work during the summer, which lowers their annual salary. Although Swarthmore offers benefits to all of its long-term employees, including part time workers, the benefits are not always sufficient.
One specific area that the college could improve upon is a proper child care policy. The college offers no on-campus child care, and up until this year, they offered no stipend for child care. The college started a pilot-program that will offer employees a taxable subsidy of up to $3,000 for child care. This program, which has its own problems, came only after years of student and faculty led advocacy.
It is time the college and students put more time and effort into making sure our employees are treated with proper respect. This necessity includes being offered proper benefits and being paid a wage high enough to cover basic living costs.
Swarthmore prides itself on its philanthropy. The work students do in Philadelphia, Chester, and around the world is important, but students often ignore problems on-campus in order to focus on these “bigger” issues.
It is time we start asking some important questions as to how our staff are treated. Are they paid a living wage? Are they forced to work two jobs to support a household? Do their benefits allow them to get appropriate health care? How are their working conditions?
It is also time the college starts addressing these questions. Child care has always been an issue on campus, and the cause picked up speed in 2014. It should not take the college more than two years to come up with an insufficient child care pilot program.
Swarthmore says its mission “is to make its students more valuable human beings and more useful members of society… Swarthmore seeks to help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.” If the college is dedicated to this goal, they should start by making their campus a better place by providing their workers with a living wage and fitting benefits.