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Editorial: Washington & Jefferson College Maintenance Workers Deserve a Fair Union Contract

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

Written By Cindy Bird, Custodian at Washington and Jefferson College

SEPT 16th - The last few years have been difficult for everyone – whether you are a student at Washington and Jefferson College, college faculty or work on the custodial or maintenance staff like myself and my colleagues. However, these hard times have been especially tough on those of us who work hard everyday to make sure Washington and Jefferson runs like it is supposed to. That is why it is time for workers like me to get a fair union contract.

Facilities workers including Cindy Bird (pictured above) distributed fliers about their requests on Sept. 16th outside of W&J's Rossin Center. (Courtesy: SEIU 32BJ staff)

We the workers have been fair and understanding with Washington and Jefferson throughout a very sensitive financial situation and have played our part in helping this school succeed. But we have not had a raise in two years and the college wants to offer us a contract with no guaranteed raises in the future. This is unacceptable as prices on everything including rent, groceries and so many other essentials rise. What we are asking for in this contract are the basic tools we need to live with our heads above water and the ability to put food on the table and a roof overhead for our families.

I have worked at Washington and Jefferson for five years now. In that time, the custodial staff have become essential workers. During the outbreak of Covid-19, we continued to work. We took extra precautions to keep ourselves and the students safe, while most of the staff and faculty worked from home. We worked on campus during the pandemic because working from home was not an option for us.

That is why it is so outrageous that after all our sacrifices over the past three years, W&J cannot give us a fair contract.

We the workers and our benefits are in trouble. Our employer wants to offer us a contract that could reduce retirement contributions, threatens our access to affordable, quality healthcare and does not guarantee any wage increases over the course of our contract. What the school has offered us, like a shift differential for those working 11:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m., are ineffectual because no one works those hours outside of emergencies on campus. These offers are embarrassing, insulting and make no changes in our workplace or our financial situations.

"Oftentimes, the school uses us as a maid service, forcing us to clean Washington and Jefferson College President Knapp’s house on top of our duties..."

We, the custodial and maintenance staff, are proud of our special bonds with the students here at W&J. Many of us go above and beyond for students who have never been away from home. We are like family while students are here on campus. Things like holiday decorating or home-cooked meals make a huge difference in these student’s lives, and we are happy to be there for them when they need us. Grateful students frequently write letters and create appreciation events for us in thanks, and we are so grateful to them for that.

We love and appreciate the students here because they love and appreciate us.

Sadly, we are not always treated with the same respect from Washington and Jefferson’s administration. Oftentimes, the school uses us as a maid service, forcing us to clean Washington and Jefferson College President Knapp’s house on top of our duties for the students.

"These offers are embarrassing, insulting and make no changes in our workplace or our financial situations."

Union-busting actions against us, and our fight for a fair contract, include W&J officials openly photographing and recording employees in an effort to intimidate us as we engaged in the peaceful action of handing out flyers about this contract dispute on campus. An official also interrogated a union shop steward about a possible strike. These actions likely violate the National Labor Relations Act and unfair labor practice charges against W&J’s conduct are now under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board. We may decide we need to strike in protest of these kinds of unfair tactics by the administration.

So what do we want in our new contract? We want a guarantee of increased wages each year, since our last raise was in 2019. We want quality healthcare that is affordable and helps us and our families stay healthy and able to work. Most importantly, we want respect from Washington and Jefferson College for our hard work keeping this school clean, safe and fully operational. These are basic demands that we ask of the College and they should in no way be interfering in this process.

If our basic requests for fair wages,

Many Facilities workers at W&J are part of the SEIU 32BJ Union. (Courtesy: SEIU 32BJ staff)

good healthcare, dignity and respect are not met, our union bargaining committee is authorized to call for a strike if bargaining continues to be fruitless. We want to negotiate a fair contract with the school as soon as possible, but if that is not possible, we are prepared to withhold our labor through a strike so that the Washington and Jefferson College administration can see just how essential we are to the operations of this school.

We know Washington and Jefferson students care about justice and we ask that you join us in this fight for dignity, respect and a fair contract. Tell the W&J administration that custodial and maintenance staff deserve a fair contract NOW!


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