Students for Local 211 Protest for Higher Wages

 

Jen Calabrese ’17
Contributing Writer

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, in Campus Center 204 at 7 p.m., Matt Cook gave a presentation on the recent contract negotiations between the Smith workers’ labor union, Local 211, and Smith College. Cook has a paid position as president of Local 211, which is made up of 132 people who work in Dining Services and Housekeeping Department Staff.

The union received support from Economic Justice, a working group of Students for Social Justice and Institutional Change, who put posters and chalkings around campus and held a march -“Smith works because they do!”- which drew more than 70 people on the day of the contract decision.

The main issue that the union and Economic Justice are currently pushing is health care. Under a law which took effect under former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, all residents must have health insurance, and Smith employees pay out of their salaries towards their health care plans. Dining Services and Housekeeping employees earn in the range of $22,000–$25,000. Those who work full-time have to put about $5,000 of their salaries toward health care, while for those who work part-time, the amount is closer to $10,000. Administrative employees and faculty also put $10,000 toward their health care plans. However, their incomes are much higher, including a large percentage who make six-figure salaries.

Therefore, about 45 percent of the dining services and housekeeping employees’ salaries go toward their health care plans, whereas only about 5 percent of administrative employees’ salaries do. In addition, Cook pointed out, Smith workers are paid less in “real money” now than they were ten years ago, due to inflation. There are now fewer dining halls and more students at Smith than there used to be, as well as more varied menus. This means more work for dining services and Housekeeping employees. Another important issue discussed was that many of these employees only work part-time because there are not many full-time positions available to them. This means that they do not receive many benefits. Smith’s endowment and tuition costs are higher than ever, yet these workers are making less than ever in real money.

The goal of Local 211 is to negotiate a contract with the college that will resolve the above issues through a process called collective bargaining. This is a process in which workers, through their unions, try to negotiate contracts with their employers to determine the terms of their employment, which includes health care, pay and other such things. As one employee said in a letter to Smith, “Smith employees have the same needs as anybody else. They want to live in decent housing in safe neighborhoods. They want to feed and clothe their families, take a nice vacation, and send their children to college. Nothing extravagant.”

As one employee at the meeting said, Smithies are “the bread and butter” of the college. While the student turnout at the meeting was not large, there were certainly a good handful of students who were passionate about the cause. One student, Rachel Klinger ’15, was involved in a march for Local 211 last spring, along with about 35 other students. According to Klinger, “Students should support the people who make being students here possible; we’re in a position to put pressure on the college in ways the faculty and staff can’t, especially because we don’t depend on the college for our employment.”

At the time of printing, the legal decision on the contract had been made but was unavailable to the public.

 

 

Leave a Comment