May 24, 2011

Students march for housekeeper jobs

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Student protests about the facilities and housekeeping merger continued yesterday afternoon with a march to the Administration Building. Over 50 students gathered to demonstrate against a facilities change and new dining hall contract which could threaten the jobs of University housekeepers and dining hall workers.

The Student Solidarity March for Housekeepers and Dining Hall Workers marked another event in a series of public protests, as student groups openly criticize the potential job loss.

“Hey Zimmer, step off it! Put people over profit!” began the first group chant. By noon, about 25 students gathered to carry signs from Bartlett Quad to the Administration Building in a planned march.

A half hour later, in front of the Administration Building, about 50 students in total demonstrated in protest to criticize the University’s actions. The group ended the event chanting, “We’ll be back!”

Students have spoken out about administrators’ treatment of housekeepers, claiming that workers with decades of experience deserve to keep their jobs. “The University, by just arbitrarily laying them off and not really doing anything to provide for them, is violating their dignity,” first-year and Worker-Student Coalition member Vitas Zukowski said.

Members of the Worker-Student Coalition, a group composed of nine different activist RSOs, recently met with SG members to discuss gaining support from the group. According to second-year and Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL) member Lexie Grove, SG members were largely receptive to the idea but ultimately decided against passing a more formal referendum.

Instead, some SG members now plan to draft a letter in support of the housekeepers and dining hall workers., according to SG class of 2013 representative Sam Scarrow.

Now, in light of the SG meeting and initial support, Grove is also hopeful that a meeting between the Worker-Student Coalition and University administrators is on the horizon.

In an e-mail advertising the event, the organizers of the march claimed that recent public protests and demonstrations have proved to be the most effective methods in garnering change.

Grove said that the University’s acknowledgement of student interest in the issue has been a promising development. “[Administrators are] admitting that it’s something that’s not completely out of their hands.”

The SOUL press release cites a comment made by Vice President for Student Life Kim Goff-Crews at a “Coffee and Donuts” event with President Zimmer on May 13 as evidence that the University could meet their demands.

According to the press release, Goff-Crews announced, “We may end up stipulating that in the contract... but we’re not going to stipulate that right now.”

The group’s press release interpreted this comment to mean that the administrators could meet their demands but have not yet decided to do so.

At the same event, Zimmer declined to comment on the issue, as negotiations are still ongoing. Grove called the University’s limited response frustrating. “It’s becoming more and more apparent that they completely could just meet our demands,” she said.

The Worker-Student Coalition is comprised of SOUL, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, Southside Solidarity Network, Students for a Democratic Society, Graduate Students United, Organization of Latin American Students, University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights, and UChicago Climate Action Network.

Past events by the Coalition have included a talk with housekeepers and a rally in front of the Adminstration Building, both events in late April.

Event organizers agreed this would not be the last event of the academic year. SOUL is calling for a written statement from the administration assuring the job security of the housekeepers and dining hall workers before the summer.