More than 40 students, staff members and community members gathered on the Faunce House steps Thursday to protest the University’s decision to outsource mailroom operations to office technology company Ricoh USA, a change set to take effect Aug. 1.
Through Facebook posts and flyers, the protest’s student organizers also encouraged others to call Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration, and Beth Gentry, assistant vice president of business and financial services, to urge the University to reverse the decision.
“We are here to deliver justice to mailroom workers,” said Justice Gaines ’16, who kicked off the protest.
The demonstration aimed to call on administrators to allow current mailroom workers to keep their jobs with the same pay and benefits, said Karen McAninch ’74, union representative for Brown University workers. Barring that, she said she hopes the administration addresses the workers’ needs by helping them find other employment.
Last week, students met with Huidekoper and Gentry to learn more about the University’s decision, according to a Facebook post by the Undergraduate Council of Students. Huidekoper subsequently sent a letter to UCS, which the Council posted online.
In her letter, Huidekoper reaffirmed the University’s decision to outsource mail operations, noting that assessments by Ricoh and the United Parcel Service as well as survey responses from over 700 students highlighted “the need to address the array and quality of services.”
She added that the University is working “to ensure a smooth and respectful transition” for current mailroom workers, including helping them find other employment.
Ariana Steele told The Herald that her husband, who works at the mailroom, is not yet sure whether he will be able to continue to work at the University. “I’m resentful that he’s expected to apply to a third party for a lower salary,” she said, noting that their family depends on his health insurance and paycheck.
Jesus Sanchez, one of two unionized mailroom workers who will not lose their jobs, spoke at the protest, sharing stories about the unfavorable conditions against which current workers have fought — including dealing with the overcrowded Power Street garage and working with outdated technology. “I feel bad for all the other workers in the mailroom,” he said. “These guys put in their hard time. It’s just unfair what they’re doing to us.”
“When I see workers who are trying to stand up for their own rights, trying to stop themselves from being exploited, maltreated, outsourced, having their lives cut out from under them, I think all of us should stand with them,” said protester Evan McLaughlin, a worker at the Hilton Providence, who said he and his coworkers have vowed to fight unjust working conditions.
Many protesters expressed anger that Ricoh conducted the assessment that would ultimately prompt the University’s decision to shift mailroom operations to the company. They also voiced frustration at the timing of the decision.
Steele said the University should not have made the change “in the summer, when students aren’t around to protest.”
But Huidekoper wrote that the University did not intentionally wait until June to make its decision, and that the lower volume of mail in the summer makes it an “appropriate” time to transition.