Protesters march by Usdan (photo by Nita Rome)
If you were among the hundreds (thousands?) of people who were at the Wesleyan v. Williams game on Saturday, then you probably saw protesters marching around the outside of the field starting at halftime.
the Cardinal gets in on the protest
A comprehensive info flier handed out by protesters at the game read as follows:
“Why Are We Protesting?
Wesleyan Student/Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) is protesting today to call on Wesleyan to hire five more custodial workers. This demand is the result of years of inhumane working conditions for custodial workers at the university. As a result of unreasonable workloads, workers have experienced injuries on the job and are often unable to take breaks, drink water, or eat lunch. We have been protesting the university for allowing these unjust workloads to continue since the fall of 2018, and we will continue to do so until Wesleyan’s custodial workers’ demands are met.
Q: Why five more workers? How was this number determined?
The need for five more workers was formulated by custodians and conveyed to students. After 2012, working conditions worsened dramatically. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of custodians went down from 60 to 50, despite Wesleyan’s increasing student population.
After a series of large protests last semester, Wesleyan authorized the hire of one more custodian. Still, this is not enough to alleviate unjust working conditions. We will continue this campaign until the university employs at least 55 custodial workers in total.
Q: Have custodians themselves ever expressed their concern with overwork?
Yes, many times. In June 2013, custodians protested against the reduction of personnel from 60 to 50. In May 2019, five custodians penned a letter to the editor of the Argus explaining that management has ignored each of their complaints made in the past year and that “only hiring five more workers can correct the unfair workloads at Wesleyan.”
Q: Won’t hiring five more workers take funds away from other vital university expenditures like financial aid?
President Roth has said it will cost the university an estimated $60,000 per year to hire a new worker, meaning that five more workers will cost the university $300,000. This amount is minuscule in the context of Wesleyan’s $1.065 billion endowment, its $280,261,000 in total annual revenue and President Roth’s annual salary of $1.33 Million.“
The flier also included a QR code linking to a pledge for the Wesleyan community to withhold donations to Wesleyan until five more workers are hired, found here.
Protesters marching down College Row
This protest follows is a continuation of various USLAC/Five More Workers related protests and rallies during the 2018-19 school year, which included various rallies throughout the year, as well as a three-day series of protests during WesFest. Many of these protests and rallies have included custodians, as well as other people employed at Wesleyan, although some custodians have been documented expressing fear of retaliation from their employer as a result of expressing their grievances.
Calls for five more workers stemmed from reports of overwork from custodians, including instances of punishment with more work, inability to take a lunch break, having to run between work assignments, and other issues stemming from the root issue of the 2012 to 2014 staff cut (more detailed here). While Wesleyan has made arguments against why they have not fulfilled the demand, these arguments have been refuted by workers and students alike. These included claims to Wesleyan being on-par with peer institutions for custodial staff. The data by which the claim was made was shown to be misleading by USLAC. The assertion by the simultaneously delegitimizing reports by custodians of working conditions in favor of misleading data. Michael Roth also attempted to delegitimize student protest by invoking ideals of free speech, and on top of this, protests were met with dangerous overreaction from the university as a whole. During this time, a National Labor Relations Board complaint was filed against Wesleyan for labor violations toward SMG workers.
Protesters outside of admissions during WesFest
Protesters marching to South College during WesFest
Commencement 2019 saw a banner drop and a “five more workers” chant from the graduating class, with Roth responding with what has proven to be an empty statement.
“One of the legacies of your class, will be that we are diligent in making sure that no worker on this campus has a work assignment that’s unfair…you have made the point and I have heard you”.
– Michael Roth, May 26th, 2019
Roth smiles as students chant (via wesleyan.edu)
At the beginning of the year, Roth announced the hiring of one more custodian, however, due to the state of working conditions for custodians, the demand to reach 55 still stands.
Protesters begin the march down College Row (photo by Nita Rome)
While we have seen the university responding to Five More Workers protests in the past, I believe we’ve reached a certain place in this push for change. Last year, Michael Roth and the university ran through a slew of responses, as detailed above. Thankfully, due to the response from students and workers to responses from the school, as well as general publicity made surrounding the issue on social media and in publications, most can see that this isn’t just some minor problem with custodial staffing, but a large issue that the university is unwilling to take significant enough action on. Until Michael Roth and the university are willing to address the realities of custodian’s working conditions, which have been a major problem since the early-2010s cut in staff from 60 to 50 custodians, with respect and legitimacy and take action, they should expect to continue to hear about it and be pressured.
Protesters hold signs across from the bleachers (photo by Nita Rome)
Update 11.5.2019 1:33 pm est – Small addition/word change for accuracy.
Update 11.5.2019 2:34 pm est – Caption added to first photo.
Update 11.6.2019 2:44 am est – Spelling mistakes fixed.