Students hold protests against labor practices
By Stephanie Mc Feeters, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Dartmouth Students Stand with Staff conducted demonstrations in front of Parkhurst Hall Monday afternoon to raise awareness about the College’s alleged mistreatment of union and non-union staff members. Through multiple recent demonstrations, including rushing the field during Saturday’s Homecoming football game, members hope to motivate the administration to restore pre-2011 health care benefits for all Dartmouth staff, stop subcontracting labor and increase wages annually to meet inflation rates, member Anna Winham ’14 said.
On Friday morning, the student group delivered a letter to Interim College President Carol Folt and Senior Vice President and Senior Advisor to the President David Spalding ’76 outlining their specific grievances and demands, and members are meeting with Spalding on Tuesday to elaborate on the letter’s content. Member Eli Lichtenstein ’13 said that it is important for the administration to be aware of the group’s concerns, even if they are unlikely to act upon them.
“We recognize that the administration may very productively address our concerns, but we look very pessimistically upon this possibility,” he said. “We’ve been overwhelmingly treated with condescension and disrespect and a blunt lack of concern.”
Many people are ignorant of the difficulties College staff currently face, according to Students Stand with Staff member Allison Puglisi ’15, who noted that students often react negatively to the organization’s demonstrations.
The upcoming election in November makes awareness especially important, as “these issues still persist even if we’re in the Dartmouth bubble,” she said.
The Service Employees International Union Local 560 has been engaging in contract negotiations about wages and benefits with the College since Spring term, according to Winham.
The College and SEIU Local 560 have agreed not to make any public statements regarding the negotiations, according to Director of Media Relations for the College Justin Anderson.
“As a general matter, Dartmouth and the union have always been able to reach a fair contract through the negotiations process and we look forward to the same outcome this time,” Anderson said in an email.
Members of Students Stand with Staff meet with College employees weekly to discuss how the student organization can best support staff, Puglisi said. Although union members have not disclosed the specifics of the negotiations to members of Students Stand with Staff, “they’ve been able to tell [the organization] that the College has been disrespectful and rude during the negotiations,” Winham said.
Students Stand with Staff is asking the administration to acknowledge the difficulties that the health care cuts, policy of subcontracting labor and lack of wage increases are causing staff members.
In 2011, the College cut health care benefits for all Dartmouth employees, including faculty, but disproportionately targeted staff, Lichtenstein said.
Lichtenstein said he talked to multiple staff members who had difficulty bringing their children to the hospital due to the reductions in health care benefits.
Another concern is the College’s use of subcontracting, such as the employment of King Arthur Flour Cafe staff and certain delivery services, as a method of union-busting, Winham said.
“We are here as a strong political force, and we won’t be backing down on these issues because they’re fundamentally important to the Dartmouth community,” Lichtenstein said.
The student organization endeavors to “expose the retrograde labor practices of the College” and encourage other students, faculty, administrators, staff and community members to examine the College’s labor practices, according to history professor Russell Rickford, who is a member and informal advisor of Students Stand with Staff.
“[Students Stand with Staff] is committed to reaffirming the natural alliance between workers and students, both of whom stand to benefit tremendously from the creation of a fairer, more just society,” Rickford said in an email.
He said that the “deep culture of conservatism” at the College can makes this type of activism difficult by promoting conformity.
Noah Cramer ’16, who participated in his first Students Stand with Staff protest on Monday afternoon, said he was inspired to join the student group after a “lively” debate about the role of the student organization in his comparative literature course earlier this term.
He said he was shocked by “how willingly ignorant to these issues [the students in his class] made themselves and how visceral their reactions were to the Students Stand with Staff members’ suggestions.”
Representatives from SEIU Local 560 declined to comment due to ongoing negations with the College.
Between five and 10 students participated in each of the demonstrations this weekend, according to Lichtenstein. Students Stands With Staff consists of approximately 15 “core members,” and 30-40 other students subscribe to the group’s emails, he said.
“[Students Stand with Staff] aims to protect workers rights while insisting on principles of egalitarianism and democratic inclusion here at Dartmouth,” Lichtenstein said.
The student group’s protests, which are part of a campaign that began in 2010, are “very informal and casual,” according to Lichtenstein. During their demonstrations, Students Stand with Staff members hand out flyers and attempt to engage passers-by in conversation.
“Unfortunately, most aren’t willing to engage with us,” he said. “We are met with indifference, or even outright hostility most of the time.”
Simon Trabelsi ’08, who spoke briefly with the student demonstrators as he was passing by Parkhurst Monday afternoon, said it was encouraging to see students concerned with and passionate about an issue that many are likely not interested in.
Students Stand with Staff’s protest differed greatly from the reports he heard during his tenure on the Alumni Council, where much of the information presented by students seemed “hand-picked” and often concerned less controversial matters than the College’s treatment of staff, he said.