University News

SLA protests review of mail workers’ driving routes

In wake of contracting change, U. says review will not lead to outsourcing of more jobs

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 2014

In the wake of the University’s decision to review the driving routes of two Mail Services employees, the Brown Student Labor Alliance rallies outside J. Walter Wilson Wednesday in solidarity with these workers.

In response to the University’s decision to conduct an external review of two unionized mailroom workers’ driving routes, the Brown Student Labor Alliance hosted a demonstration outside J. Walter Wilson Wednesday. About 50 students, staff and community members rallied to show solidarity for University workers’ rights, thrusting up brightly colored signs and uniformly chanting slogans such as, “Hey Brown, step off it, put people over profit.”

Elizabeth Gentry, assistant vice president of financial and administrative services, said that the routes need to be assessed to free up mailboxes in JWW.

“We ran out of mailboxes. We do not have enough to accommodate all the students that are on campus and off campus,” she said. The University plans to repurpose some departmental mailboxes in JWW for student use, which may add additional departmental buildings to current routes, she said.

“We do not intend to outsource the jobs of the drivers,” said Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and adminstration.

Two mailroom drivers and their union representative, Karen McAninch ’74, met with Gentry and Huidekoper Oct. 15 to discuss bringing in an outside analyst to evaluate the effectiveness of the current driving route.

Initially, the University planned to have an analyst from Ricoh USA conduct the review that was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Huidekoper said. In August, after an external review conducted by Ricoh judged mailroom operations to be inefficient, the University outsourced Mail Services to the company, The Herald reported in September.

After the outsourcing decision, two employees were rehired by Ricoh, two retired and one was rehired by the University to work in a different department, Huidekoper said.

Mailroom driver Jesus Sanchez said in the Oct. 15 meeting, Huidekoper and Gentry “told us (they) were bringing in an analyst. (They) didn’t tell us (the analyst) worked for Ricoh USA, which is the same company that came in to analyze the mailroom and brought the jobs out from under everybody.”

Workers did not express concerns until they learned the company conducting the analysis would be Ricoh, Gentry said. Ricoh was chosen to conduct the review because analyst services are included in its contract with the University, she said.

After being informed of the drivers’ dissatisfaction, the University postponed the external review, Huidekoper said, adding that the timeline for the new review is unknown.

Huidekoper and Gentry met with the two mailroom drivers Wednesday morning to discuss their concerns. “Brown University will not outsource your Mail Driver/Clerk position,” Huidekoper wrote in a letter she gave to the two drivers at the meeting.

“I think we really came to an understanding of why they were concerned,” Huidekoper said, adding that the analyst from Ricoh who made the outsourcing recommendation in May will not conduct the review of the mailroom driving route. In her letter to the drivers, she wrote that their “input to the review will be very important and valuable.”

The review “could result in recommended changes,” and the drivers will be involved in the review of any recommendations, Huidekoper said.

Christopher Steele, a former mailroom employee who worked at the University for three years, said he has a difficult time believing Huidekoper’s promise. “The reason why so many of us didn’t unionize years ago is that we were told by the administration that we had nothing to worry about,” he said, adding that his severance ended last week and he is continuing to look for work.

The drivers’ duties have shrunk, she said, and “their overtime has been tampered with.” McAninch said that despite assurance of job security, “really it’s more than just those two jobs.”

“We’re also acknowledging that this transition has not been without problems,” Huidekoper said, citing unclear email notifications, system problems and long wait times as areas for improvement.

“This place is a disaster,” Sanchez said.

In an open Undergraduate Council of Students forum in September, students expressed dissatisfaction about the current mailroom operations, said UCS President Maahika Srinivasan ’15. UCS received about 250 short-answer responses to a survey that ask students to evaluate how their experience with Mail Services compared to last year, and University representatives “promised us they would continually look at those results and that feedback,” Srinivasan said.

“The larger story and our message is that we see this as something that happened without accountability to workers, and without transparency to the larger campus,” SLA member Stoni Tomson ’15 said she told Huidekoper in a meeting Tuesday.

In response, Huidekoper said, “We are absolutely open to making sure that this is all more transparent if and when we consider anything like this again.”

According to a letter presented to the Brown University Community Council on Oct. 29, SLA is requesting that “before Brown University representatives outsource a University-administered function, … they must bring the proposal before the Brown University Community Council for its review and recommendation.” Tomson said SLA hopes this action will increase transparency and accountability.

Workers from dining, facilities and the libraries attended the rally and were joined by the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE, public employee union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees  and representatives from the organization Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, Tomson said.

Derek Lisi, who has been employed with Facilities for three years, said he attended the rally “to support the student workers and the mailroom staff,” adding that “how they’re subcontracting everything out is not right.”

“We’ll continue to stand in solidarity with the workers and with what they think are their best interests,” said Samantha Chomsky ’18, a member of SLA.

One Comment

  1. Hey Brown, step off it, put people over profit.

    Why is Brown engaging with people who can’t distinguish between a university and a corporation?

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