Guest Post: Wesleyan, It’s Time to Rise Up for Custodial Workers

“Janitorial workers provide essential labor in our homes, dorms, classrooms and athletic facilities. Our failure to see, support and organize with these workers must end.”

María with her grandchildren.

Some of you may have seen students tabling with petitions in Usdan or sharing a GoFundMe on social media in support of María Sarabia this week. Students for Custodial Workers has written this guest post to explain the conditions of custodial workers at Wesleyan and what you can do to help! Read below the jump for their post:

Custodial workers are often invisibilized at Wesleyan, which allows abuse of workers to fly under the radar, unnoticed by students, staff, and faculty. One such case of unnoticed abuse is the recent firing of María Sarabia. On August 8th, Maria was sitting down and drinking coffee during her shift at the Freeman Athletic Center. Because she has diabetes and high blood pressure, these breaks are essential to her health. The manager saw her on break and immediately fired her, alleging that she had been sleeping on the job. The corporation, Service Management Group (SMG), usually gives workers a warning before termination, but María was fired instantly and without severance. Upon being fired, María was told by a manager that “the customer did not want her anymore.” As it stands, María has been unemployed for over two months. On her salary from SMG, María supported her four grandchildren, who are in her custody. As a result of her grossly unjust firing, María was evicted from her apartment, where she lives with her four grandchildren, her husband, and her two children. As of October 17th, she has found a new apartment, thanks to a student-led crowdfunding campaign.

María’s story is just one of many that can be heard from Wesleyan custodians. Janitorial workers provide essential labor in our homes, dorms, classrooms and athletic facilities. Our failure to see, support and organize with these workers must end. In the past, student, faculty, staff, and janitor solidarity movements have lead to major results. In 1999, there was a successful student-worker solidarity campaign that ended with Wesleyan custodial workers unionizing with Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ. Since their unionization, janitors’ rights at Wesleyan have greatly improved, allowing them to make more than minimum wage and affording them pension, healthcare, vacation days, and sick days.

However, unionization has not accounted for all of the problems that come with being a worker on a rapidly expanding college campus. The union contract covers all unionized janitors in the greater Hartford area, most of whom work in office buildings. Working at a university is radically different because buildings have varying purposes and cleaning needs. Buildings like dorms and the athletic center are much more labor intensive than office buildings. Moreover, as the Wesleyan campus keeps expanding, Wesleyan has not even requested that the corporation hire more workers to accommodate for increased labor. Rather, the university assigns new buildings to workers with already overbearing workloads.

Wesleyan as an institution should be aware of these discrepancies and hold itself to a higher standard than the union contract. It is time for Wesleyan to take responsibility for the janitors who work tirelessly on this campus every day. Should the university continue to turn a blind eye to these abuses, they would not only be complicit, but active in the exploitation of workers.  As students, staff, faculty, and alumni, we have power within the University. We rely on the labor of janitors every day and therefore we must leverage our role as customers to call for justice. We must demand better of Wesleyan.

Right now, there are a various that we can help María and all custodials workers at Wesleyan:

  1. DONATE: There is currently a GoFundMe set up to help María during this difficult time. There is also the option of donating through Venmo (@Justice4Maria).
  2. SIGN THE STUDENT PETITION: Current students can help by printing and signing this student petition and urging friends and classmates to do so as well.
  3. SIGN THE FACULTY AND STAFF PETITION: The link to the google form can be found here[Edit: The incorrect link was previously posted, the correct link was added 10/18/18, 4:40 PM]
  4. SIGN THE ALUMNI PETITION: The link to the alumni petition can be found here. [Edit: added 10/18/18, 4:40 PM]
  5. GET YOUR TEAM PICTURE TAKEN: If you are on a sports team, we are currently working on a photo campaign to help María, as she was a worker at the Freeman Athletic Center. If your team is interested in being photographed, reach out to Sophia Ryterband (sryterband[at]wesleyan[dot]edu).
  6. SIGN UP FOR AN ACTION: The first action will take place on October 24th at 7:00AM. For this action, a contingent of students, staff, and faculty will be meeting outside of Pi Cafe and walking over to Long Lane to deliver petitions to several important actors in Wesleyan-SMG relations at their meeting. There will be coffee, donuts, and bagels for all participants. If you would like to attend this action, please sign up here. The second action will take place on Friday October 26th at 1PM. The group will be meeting outside of admissions and driving to SMG Headquarters in Shelton, CT to deliver petitions to the Human Resources contact. If you would like to attend this action, please sign up here. The most effective way to help at the moment is by making yourself physically present at these actions to show the university and corporation that you stand with María and all custodial workers at Wesleyan.

Thank you all for your solidarity and we look forward to seeing you at the coming actions.

If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to Emma Lucía Llano (ellano[at]wesleyan[dot]edu) or Madeleine Matz (mmatz[at]wesleyan[dot]edu).