Jemma Stephenson ’20
On Sept. 19, Smith students congregated outside of 30 Belmont Ave. in order to support Local 211, the union comprised of the College’s housekeepers and kitchen staff. Students sat on the curb in lines of rows of twos and threes. Some were doing homework, while other students simply chatted with their friends. Further down the line, one student had procured a frisbee and was welcoming others to join them in their fun.
Local 211 is in the process of renegotiating their contracts with the school. The union hopes to obtain better working conditions. In an informational email sent out about the sit-in, it was stated that “the College has effectively found a way to keep the dining and housekeeping staff in a position where they receive less benefits, less support, less leave and less pay than they should.” The Union is presumed to partake in a series of negotiations in order to garner the results that they — and the student body — are hoping to achieve. The negotiations are expected to continue for two weeks, with a sit-in taking place during each negotiation meeting, approximately every seven to ten days.
The sit-in was organized by the Smith Association of Class Activists (SACA). SACA’s goal of the sit in was to present the “presence and awareness of the student body,” as stated on the Facebook post that first informed the college of the event that would take place. Near the beginning of the event, SACA — as they wielded a sign that read “Support Local 211” — informed the assemblage of students that they wanted them to have fun and “sustain energy.” SACA feared that their fellow supporters would suffer from “activism burnout” if the sit-in was too serious in the first showing, and as a result, they wanted the students to have fun in order to maintain “enthusiasm and momentum.”
This enthusiasm was carried through the event with the assistance of chants. At one point, a Union representative poked his head out the front door and asked the students to chant loud enough to reach the ears of the College’s representative. The chants were harmonious cries of “we stand with the 211.” The cacophony also included the interrogatives: “What do we want?” and “When do we want it?” The answers to these questions were, respectively, “fair pay” and “now.” Over the course of the evening, the fears of SACA were avoided, as the students’ momentum did not wane.
As the sit-in drew to a close the results of the negotiation were unknown, but as they drew together their supplies, the students were far from ambivalent in their attitude towards the proceedings. While they walked away from the scene, their faces were resolute with determination and the promise that they would return to support Local 211, and demand the treatment, pay and working conditions that each and every worker deserves to receive from the College for all of the hard work and energy that they put into the school and the lives of students every day.