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Op-eds, Opinions

Rauschenbach ’23: Subcontracted service workers are a valuable part of the Brown community, too

By
Op-ed Contributor
Thursday, April 2, 2020

Almost daily for the past week, the University has sent its students an email about how we will remain connected during these “unprecedented times.” They shared best practices for how students, along with the entire University community, will endure. In President Christina Paxson’s P’19 video address on March 27th, she put into words many of the anxieties that members of the Brown community are feeling. However, I’m curious who makes up the “entire Brown community” in  her view. In order to truly be an inclusive, supportive institution, Brown must continue to pay its subcontracted service workers.

The University’s recent policy decisions regarding the salaries of its dining and custodial employees show that these individuals are, in fact, not seen as valuable members of our community. The University recently sent an email to “Brown Staff,” which did not include subcontracted employees who work alongside Brown staff members every day, assuring them that they need not be worried about “their job security right now.” This is a great first step, but it is not enough. The University failed to extend the same guarantee to its subcontracted service workers.

Last week, I emailed President Paxson on behalf of over 850 signatories of a petition demanding that the University continue to compensate its dining and custodial employees — both those employed directly by the University and those employed through subcontractor agencies. I received a reply which gave no guarantee that the University would honor the commitment we were demanding. So today, on behalf of the nearly 600 Brown-affiliated signatories, and the other 250 signatories from colleges and universities across the nation, I demand the University follow its peer institutions, like the University of Chicago and Harvard University, in continuing regular pay and benefits to these employees through the end of the semester. 

Brown students directly benefit from dining, facilities and other service workers. Now, in the midst of these extraordinary times, we’re demanding that the University value the humans behind those services as much as we value their labor. Ideally, we would live in a nation that properly supports its food service, custodial and other service workers we’ve now deemed essential during a global pandemic. Moreover, such support systems would be provided by the various levels of government. But we do not. 

In her March 27th address, President Paxson said, “Brown has always been about its people.” Now, the administration has a decision to make. If the University is truly “about its people,” it will make sure that the individuals who students have come to love those who serve muffins in the Blue Room, clean the bathrooms in our halls, and make the naanwiches in the Ivy Room are able to return when the University resumes normal operations without having been pushed to the brink of economic collapse because of their lack of employment. 

This is not just an issue of how much the University values its workers. Hourly workers on campus are overwhelmingly people of color. A large number of them are members of the Cape Verdean community, which was largely outpriced of the College Hill and Fox Point neighborhoods over the past 60 years. This is an issue of how much the university values racial justice.

Hourly workers on campus are part of the Providence community. This is an issue of how much the University values justice for Providence residents.

Hourly workers are going to face the most job and income insecurity due to the unprecedented events unfolding before us. This is an issue of how much the University values economic justice. 

It is time for Brown University to affirm its reputation as a socially responsible institution and do the right thing.  

Matt Rauschenbach ’23 can be reached at matthew_rauschenbach@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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