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U. signs controversial agreement to outsource mail operations

Online petition garners over 900 signatures hoping to prevent firing of Mail Services workers

Beginning Aug. 1, the University will work with office technology company Ricoh USA to improve mail delivery operations on campus, wrote Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration, in an email to The Herald. As a result of this decision, current Mail Services employees — with the exception of two unionized workers — will lose their jobs.

Nine Mail Services workers were given notice last week that their jobs would be terminated by July 31, said Alex, a Mail Services employee whose name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.

“We were stunned,” he said. “We sat there, and most of us were speechless.”

The University made the decision to switch to Ricoh in May, following an internal review of Mail Services last semester, Huidekoper wrote.

The University will provide laid-off staff members with outplacement services and “generous severance packages,” she wrote. The displaced workers are also eligible to apply for available mailroom positions under Ricoh USA, as well as other University positions, she added.

But wages and benefits may decrease under Ricoh, Alex said, adding that he thinks Ricoh is “just going to can” the office’s current workers after the fall delivery rush.

Ricoh’s University Kiosk/Inbound Mail system mimics the University’s current system structurally but incorporates a self-service kiosk where students scan in with ID cards before receiving packages from Ricoh staff, according to the company’s website.

The system aims to improve communication, increase efficiency, streamline the package delivery process for students and reduce the number of misplaced packages, according to the website.

“Many large institutions like Brown are finding that ... the changing environment calls for a new approach to delivery operation,” Huidekoper wrote, adding that Ricoh emerged as “the most qualified” company for the University to work with.

Current Mail Services employees were told that Ricoh’s technology will improve efficiency, Alex said. But had the University paid for the technology, current staff would have been able to operate it, he added.

Karen McAninch, union representative for Brown University workers, including facilities and dining staff, said she represents the two unionized mailroom employees who will maintain their jobs. McAninch said she sent a petition on behalf of the non-unionized employees to the National Labor Relations Board and that a hearing with the NLRB is scheduled for July 3.

In response to the University’s decision to use Ricoh, an undergraduate student started an online petition addressed to Huidekoper entitled, “Retain the staff and organization of the mailroom.” The petition began circulating June 21 and has garnered over 900 signatures. The student responsible for the petition declined to comment on the record.

Anneke Elmhirst ’15, who first posted the petition on Facebook, said, “I felt pretty confident that most Brown students would be unhappy by this event.”

The petition highlights one mailroom employee who took three trips with a handcart to assist a disabled student move boxes into her dorm.

“That’s what we do,” Alex said. “We just do that over the course of every day. And we don’t do things and wait for applause.”

Rachel Himes ’15 wrote in an email to The Herald that she decided to sign the petition because of her positive experiences with the mailroom staff, adding that she did not want “to be complicit in actions that resulted in their termination.”

“I think Brown has to put its money where its mouth is instead of giving social justice lip service while neglecting to keep even the smaller administrative decisions in line with these principles,” Himes wrote.

At a union meeting Tuesday evening, McAninch said, other Brown union members expressed support for the mailroom workers.

McAninch said she thought the online petition was an “impressive” effort and demonstrated students’ loyalty to the staff.

Students have historically organized in response to University outsourcing decisions. In 2006, the Save the Bookstore Coalition was created after the University proposed outsourcing the Brown University Bookstore to Barnes & Noble, The Herald previously reported. The bookstore switch did not occur in part because of students’ protests. McAninch said the University’s announcement about the mailroom came with less time before the switch than the bookstore proposal.

Mail Services workers said they cannot believe how fast a petition was created, Alex said. “I didn’t expect this outpouring of support.”

Students plan to forward the petition to “necessary administrators” once 1,000 people have signed it, Elmhirst said. But Huidekoper told The Herald that a student petition will not change the University’s decision.

“The employees who work in the mailroom are valued members of the community, and I understand that many people who have participated in the petition drive commented on the friendly service they have received,” Huidekoper wrote. “The University has extraordinary people who work here, and we will ensure a fair and respectful process as we work with staff during this transition.”

But the “enhanced services and administrative expertise that can be provided are simply too compelling,” Huidekoper wrote of the University’s agreement with Ricoh.


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