Saturday, October 28, 2006

 

Subcommittee Proposal

Hey everyone, as you all may know, the Strategic Planning Committee formed a "Living Wage Subcommittee" to study the issue and present its findings to the committee as a whole, who will then make a proposal to the Board of Trustees. The subcommittee voted on various proposals on Wednesday. This one, presented by Tori Meringolo on behalf of Larry Vote, won with a plurality of 5 out of 10 votes:
____________________________________________________________________

"St. Mary’s College of Maryland Compensation Program

The College’s compensation program adopted by the Board of Trustees on September 22, 2000 is designed to provide a salary and benefits structure for faculty and staff that is competitive in the local or the national marketplace. The program is based upon a regular review of comparative compensation data for employee positions which are deemed to be either local or national. The goal of this program is to recruit and retain high quality employees.

In response to living wage concerns that have been expressed on campus during the fall of 2006, and in light of living wage levels that have been adopted in approximately 140 jurisdictions and organizations across the United States (see www.livingwagecampaign.org), the College agreed to the creation of a subcommittee to study the issue as it pertained to the College.

The College’s compensation program that is based upon comparative quantitative data continues to succeed in attracting and retaining high quality employees. Furthermore, the base floor compensation for full time employees of $23,000, or $11.06 per hour (not including benefits), arrived at in the tentative collective bargaining agreement will place the College in the upper third when compared to the jurisdictions that have adopted a living wage as noted above. The proposed compensation arrived at in the tentative contract agreement represents a 15% increase over the current base floor level.

The College is further committed to provide an outstanding benefits package and an ongoing review and implementation of improvements to its total compensation package."
__________________________________________________________________

Tim and Sahar proposed this alternative:
__________________________________________________________________

The Living Wage

Inspiration:

A community is only as strong as its weakest members. As members of the St. Mary's College of Maryland community, we are inspired by our mission statement, which states a commitment to social change, social responsibility and civic-mindedness, and a community built on respect. Providing a living wage to our workers ensures that we practice the ideals that our community stands for.

Definition:

A living wage is:

The wage level sufficient to provide for a fair and decent standard of living for a model family, regardless of public assistance.

If workers are paid well, there will likely be lower turnover rates and greater workforce cohesion. If St. Mary’s College is considered a high-paying, respectful institution to work for, productivity may also increase. Higher productivity and lower turnover raise the value of each employee’s work, at least partially offsetting increased payroll costs.

Budget for a family with one adult and one child:

Monthly Expenses:
Food $295
Child Care $497
Medical (SMCM plan) $164
Housing $817
Transportation $137
Other $398
Monthly After-Tax Income Required: $2,313
Annual After-Tax Income Required: $27,756
Payroll Tax $2,430
State Tax $578
Federal Tax $2,172
Gross Annual Income Required $31,766

Family Composition:

A census was conducted of bargaining-unit-eligible employees who make less than $33,000. Analysis of this data reveals that:

Proposal:


Saturday, September 30, 2006

 

From one Sitter ...

This is the first time I've really had the opportunity to attempt to collect my thoughts about the action and the issues -- Now, when we have been out of Maggie's office for four days. We're back to classes, back to practice, back to our clubs and the various other responsibilities that we all put on hold for the seven days that we occupied that space. We're back to our so-called normal lives and yet we have not let go and we have not forgotten. I hope that everyone out there understands that these issues have not been resolved. Though we are no longer physically present in Maggie's office we are still prsent on this campus and in this community. We will continue to apply pressure to wherever it is needed - we are dedicated - as we have stated before - to accomplishing change at St. Mary's. To forcing our college to uphold its promises.

The past two weeks have been very revealing. I've come to see how the administration works - and manipulates - I've bonded with an incredible group of students - I've spoken with classmates - both supportive and not - I've spoken with workers who showered me with Thank Yous for all the work we did. That was so powerful, talking with the workers about our action, seeing the expressions of gratitude on their faces. I wish more students and administration would take the time to speak to these wonderful people. We should be thanking them.

All I can really think to say is this: I've been through hardships in my life. I've dealt with pain and suffering in many forms. However, I've always been lucky enough to come out on top. And in the end, I'm still a privileged college student that comes from a well-off middle class family My life isn't defined by struggles or the task of always trying to make ends meet. How did I always manage to survive? Through the efforts of those around me - because people who cared fought for me. I will not turn my back on our workers or our community. The only way any of us survives is through each other. We must help each other

I hope that you all will keep your eyes and ears open for what is still to come. We will be having more actions in the very near future, join us in these actions! Speak to your friends, professors, parents, the workers and to us. This dialogue is not over.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

 

A Theoretical Diversion

As an Economics Enthusiast (and major, for people who care about such things) there is something I would like to note.

The market theory taught in most American economics classes is a useful tool often irresponsibly promoted and applied. The theory, as it is taught, requires a fictional and simplisitic world to generate the maximum social welfare that it's less cautious partisans promise. Once monopolistic behavior, externalities, and assymetrical information enter the picture, the situation becomes complicated to the point that the disinterested action of markets can no longer be relied upon to reach socially efficient solutions.

More to the point, however, is the absence of considerations of power from most economic theory. Much of economics is completely divorced from social realities. Wages are detirmined as much by the fear generated by capricious bosses as by the value of the product of labor.

A free market is a no-holds-barred fight. Of course the strongest fighter will win, but is it just? Are you happy to live in a world were violent force is king?

-ruminations from the mobile desk of Paul Blundell

Sunday, September 24, 2006

 

From the Sitters-In (On the Way Out)

Dear Campus Community,

Last night Tom Botzman promised to meet with us to attempt to come to a satisfactory compromise on the issues of a living wage, longevity pay, and representation on campus. After we sent the attached letter to Drs. O’Brien and Botzman, negotiations were unilaterally called off by the administration. We have reached the end of our effectiveness in this space and have decided to move out and pursue this issue in other venues.

We are pleased with the success we’ve had in the past few days. Negotiations on the union contract concluded on Thursday after three months of stalled negotiations. Union members have expressed that our action, in solidarity with them, directly contributed to a contract with much more favorable terms than they thought possible. Furthermore, we’ve seen a groundswell of support for a movement that just one week ago did not exist on this campus. Finally, President O’Brien has expressed her commitment to working with the Strategic Planning Committee and her Cabinet to convince the Board of Trustees to approve a living wage.

We look forward to working with the community and the administration in the coming weeks to research the issue and share what we learn with interested parties. Keep an ear and an eye out for the actions to follow.

This was a victory, albeit a partial one. Although many of our demands were not satisfactorily addressed, many positive gains were made and we feel that the campus community has moved one step closer to justice.

Please join us at the President’s Office at 11:50 AM on Monday, Sept. 25, (tomorrow) as we walk with supportive students, faculty, and staff out of the office and back to the campus center.

Sincerely yours,
The Sitters-In

p.s. We haven’t forgotten about the student minimum wage increase but we have heard a fair amount of critical feedback on it. In light of this, we’ve decided to take the issue to the Student Government Association for consideration and input.

 

late night ruminations

Greetings all,

Let me begin by saying it has been a long day in a week of long days.

I am having trouble gathering my thoughts in a coherent way and so apologize if there is a rambling nature to this post. I'd like to try and summarize some of my personal feelings from the experience so far, what has been achieved, and what remains.

Dialogues with the administration have continually been difficult, (something to be expected), tense at times, and frustrating nearly always. Having said that, we recognize that progress has been made and have hope that the talks will continue progressing. Throughout the many meetings we have had with Maggie and Tom a feeling on the part of the sitters has been that they have not been taking us seriously, using stall tactics, and above all, failed to provide a concrete agreement to our demands, to which they have often expressed agreement with "in principle."

I would like to make clear that occupying the President's office was merely a political symbol and not a personal attack on Maggie herself. We were hoping to apply direct and serious pressure on the Administration to force them into fast (re)action, and this we accomplished. I wish that Maggie had been able to better realize that her role in this institution is the major reason we brought the issues at hand to her so directly. She is the President, afterall.

That being said, talks are moving along.

The forums yesterday were very telling in many ways. Our forum at 2pm outside of Calvert was attended by about 35 people, staff, students, and faculty all present. Vocally at least, no one opposed the idea of a living wage. There was however, significant confusion expressed concerning our demand for a $10 student minimum wage.

One student even said that he felt his own job wasn't worth ten bucks an hour. To varying degrees, this sentiment was a shared one. We were prepared for this perspective, although we were totally confused and frustrated when we heard that evidently, the largest bulwark to the minimum wage were the students themselves!

I will address why I think this is the case in a minute, but first let me explain how we came to agree on our proposal for a new minimum wage.

Students at St. Mary's are in a unique position concerning work. They are underpaid AND under worked; typical job shifts are 2-3 hours, and many jobs do not offer more than 6 hours of work a week as a general practice. I happen to work two jobs (and am working on getting a third) on campus, totaling a whopping 14 hours (86 bucks) a week.

Fortunately for me personally, I only have to work to support myself in a limited fashion, but my parents have been able to pay for my living and undergraduate expenses, something I have given much thought to. This is not the case for many, many, many students. And so, with this in mind, we decided that an increase in the minimum wage on campus was not in any way unreasonable. Students need a real way to pay for their education and living expenses, and 6.15 an hour doesn't cut it. In fact, neither would ten, especially with the paltry hours available, but at least it would be better. In addition, this is a public institution that claims to be committed to diversity and openness, but the truth is that such a wage and lack of positions available to students immediately closes the doors on countless potential students who need to work while they study, something they can't really do here but could at say, American, Catholic, UMCP, or any school that is in a major urban area or provides adequate on campus jobs for its students.

Bringing it back to why students are seemingly not in support of the increased minimum wage: I know for a fact that this sentiment is not total, and, if I may be so bold, I would say that most of the students who work on this campus would greatly appreciate a raise. My feeling is that those who are against a raise are products of a class rift on campus, between students who have to work to support themselves and those who have the luxury to not. Those who are more privileged do not support the raise because they have never had to take care of themselves financially and are unaware (at least to comparatively to students who MUST support themselves) of the disconnect between wages and costs. The other possibility is that capitalism has become so effective that students have superceded the gut reaction that more money is always better, an intrinsic capitalist thought itself, for an even greater capitalist belief: time is not that valuable financially. It's possible that students have come to undervalue their own time so much that they do not feel it is worth even 6.15 an hour, let alone ten.

Sunday afternoon we will resume talks with the Administration, leaving off where we did on Friday after both forums were concluded and an all-student email from Maggie was sent out in which she committed herself to dealing with the issue of a living wage. We hope to clarify the method and timetable for how this will be accomplished in our next meeting.

Signing off from the Calvert T.A.Z.,

Ben Austin-Docampo

Friday, September 22, 2006

 

Community Letter

September 22, 2006

TO: The St. Mary’s College of Maryland Community

FROM: The Sitters-In and Supporters

We would like to thank the many students, faculty and staff who participated in today’s forums to voice their concerns. We are ecstatic to hear the support from our community for a living wage for the workers and are relieved to hear the administration make a public statement of interest in resolving this issue.

Mediators from Walden/Sierra Inc. have been invited in to facilitate communication between the administration and the students occupying the President’s office. We hope that with their support communication will become more respectful and efficient so that we can move towards a mutually satisfactory agreement on concrete objectives, metrics of evaluation, and time tables for completion.

We look forward to working with the President, her Cabinet, the students, faculty, staff, and the Board of Trustees in establishing a living wage for the hard working employees of St. Mary’s College of Maryland and hope that soon we can announce a successful completion of this action.

 

From a sitter...

This is order to quickly respond to comments on both the student minimum wage issue and on the continuance of this action. First, I would like to reiterate that we are definitely still working in solidarity with the workers. Several, including union representatives, have personally approached us and told us that they support an increase in the student minimum wage. Just as we want to give workers a sure footing and a chance to have a decent living, we've considered how wages of $6.15 an hour can't even make a dent in helping to finance our own goals - namely, the education that we came to St. Mary's to obtain. Yes, the students in this room are privileged. We have access to much, much more than most of the workers at St. Mary's. That isn't in question. But many of us are getting by on student loans, and making plenty of sacrifices of our own in order to be here. Accessibility is essential for all students, and all people. We want a written commitment to these principles before we leave. Not overnight change, but a commitment of shared principles with regard to all of the issues on the table that assures us we'll be moving in a positive direction. I think we can all move forward from there.

- Jake

Some facts: the student job market is incredibly limited and offers about 10-15 hours a week for each job. This has been taken into account in the wage. The union has fully supported this point, and urged us not to drop our own wage issues. They see the issue as deliberating the same struggle.

I don't know about anyone else- but I don't have a car, insurance, or an 'ipod', but I do have loans that aren't co-signed. I have no home but my college dorm and, for a time, this office.

When I hear that a friend of mine has to search for their third campus job because hours and wages aren't enough to pay off debts, I see something wrong. When I seed that skilled student laborers in Maintenance and Media Services are making around 6.15/hour for work that would pay $15-17/hour off-campus, I see something wrong.

The issue is clearly more complicated than "coffee pourers and shelf-stackers." The administration and the union are fully behind this initiative- and the students aren't? Is this simply a rationalization for apathy and inaction? Please, come to Calvert and discuss it with us. It is clear to me that the student body has its own poverty and wage gaps, and I ask students, who don't pay their own way, to keep in mind the privilege they are working out of when they criticize those with campus jobs because they have to pay off tuition.

Before I sign off and return to work, I just want to ask people this: why should some students, attending an "accessible" public institution, have to work menial, degrading jobs while others can devote their time to study and leisure?

-Brendan


 

BRAND NEW detailed update from last night's meeting

At 6 P.M. last night the group of sitters met with President O’Brien and Vice President for Business and Finance Tom Botzman in order to discuss the resolution of the issues that we had put to them in previous days.

In the interest of centralizing the discussion and accomplishing what we felt to be our most important goal, we suggested that we would like to come to some kind of concrete agreement on the living wage issue for workers. The sitters presented the research that we had done over the past two days or so – including exactly which models were used in order to calculate our estimate of the living wage for St. Mary’s county.

Our definition of a “living wage” is one in which a wage earner makes enough to cover the necessary cost of his or her household without resorting to financial assistance from anyone, be it the government or private relief organizations. The calculation we originally presented in our demands was based upon federal data and standards. The office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) compiles data every year on rental rates in every part of the country. From this they derive the “Fair Market Rate” (FMR), or monthly cost of shelter and utilities in a “privately owned, decent, [structurally] safe, and sanitary rental housing of a modest (non-luxury) nature with suitable amenities.” Any household in which the FMR is greater than 30% of its gross monthly income is defined by HUD as “low-income” and qualifies for public assistance. Our demand is based upon this standard and the 2005 FMR for St. Mary’s county for a two-bedroom apartment capable of housing a family of 3 or 4. A wage of at least $32000 per year is required to surpass the “low-income” standard for 2005.

We also presented alternate models available that highlighted how relatively conservative our own was. Living wage formulas made available by Penn State and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) compile the monthly costs for a family’s food, housing, health care, child care, transportation, and associated necessary expenses to determine the minimum gross monthly wage necessary to make ends meet. These data, like our own, are based primarily on federal statistics for St. Mary's county. The results of these calculations are significantly higher than our own. For a family of three in St. Mary’s county the Penn State Living Wage Calculator presented an annual income of $36,353 while the EPI calculated one of $34,596. These figures increase dramatically when a family of four lives in equivalent housing ($45,793 and 39,708 respectively).

When we had finished presenting our data, we asked Dr. Botzman if he would present the work that he had done over the past few days on the living wage. He suggested that he had not developed anything new for us. At this point, some sitters communicated that they felt the administration was simply stalling, and wasting our time. We also suggested that we couldn’t reach any kind of agreement if the administration didn’t consider our opinions on living wage seriously. Dr. Botzman left the meeting and quickly returned with an alternative method to calculate a living wage that was based upon the nationally determined poverty levels. In this model, a living wage is determined by taking wages at the poverty level and increasing them by 30%. We didn’t consider this to truly be a “living wage” because it still falls far short of the income necessary to cover a household’s basic needs. We also noted that Dr. Botzman was using federal data not specific to St. Mary's county. We noticed that several of the sources he cited in the report he showed us were were from 1998 or 1999, and we asked whether these sources had been put together in the last few days during the time both of us had agreed to do research and come back together to discuss our findings. He said no.

Dr. O'Brien then offered her interpretation of a living wage. She began her discussion with the average wage of St. Mary's County, which she stated is around $32,000 per year. However, she suggested that the top 20% of of wages in the county related to the wages earned by Patuxent River Base employees. Dr. O'Brien's model worked out living wage using the average wage in the county after subtracting the wages of Patuxent River Naval Base employees because of the economic disparity between Base employees and non-Base employees. She told us that the average wages for the non-Base employees define something that means average wage. She said she sees that as a livable wage, not a minimum wage. She also stated that she was 100% certain that the Board ofTrustees would never approve a $32,000 living wage figure.

Several group members objected to this reasoning. We clarified that our $32,000 figure is based on federal government calculations of a living wage, and didn't merely echo the average wage of St. Mary's county, which happens to be very similar. Additionally, members of our group stated that while it may have seemed logical for Dr. O'Brien's calculations to factor out the Base income when determining average income in St. Mary's, it was impossible to factor out the influence of the Base on housing costs, property taxes and the generally skyrocketing cost of living in St. Mary's County. This makes a model of living wage based on average wages discluding Base wages meaningless.

When it began to seem clear that a discussion of numbers was not going anywhere, we told Dr. O'Brien and Dr. Botzman that we would like to try to convince the Board of our position. We suggested that we draft some kind of document detailing our shared goal of obtaining a living wage, which had already been verbally agreed to by all parties. Dr. O'Brien and Dr. Botzman were silent, even though they had previously suggested that we come up with a shared statement of principle. Dr. Botzman left the room several times to answer phone calls.

Discussions broke down from there, as we became more and more frustrated at the administration's apparent avoidance of action. Sreveral people expressed a feeling of betrayal and disrespect at promises we thought Dr. O'Brien and Dr. Botzman would keep to research the situation on living wage and get back to us at this meeting. We brought up the institutional commitements to respect, social change, and community that St. Mary's includes in it's mission statement and advertising literature, and expressed frustration at the hypocrisy of the institution not living up to its own standards as we saw it.

Dr. O'Brien expressed that she felt disrespected by charges of hypocrisy, and shortly after, she and Dr. Botzman left the room without explanation. They returned to announce that the union and the college administration appeared to have come to a preliminary agreement, thus ending negotiations. It became clear that they expected us to leave, that the battle was over, and they had been stalling us the entire time.

We think that it's clear why we're not leaving. Just because negotiations have ended with the union, doesn't mean our struggle is over. None of our demands have been met, or even seriously considered. We are still willing to compromise and cooperate, and we are willing to focus on the single issue of living wage as a primary concern, but the administration continues to avoid taking any meaningful action. We'll sit here until they do.

We would like to say that we are incredibly proud of the worker's negotiating team for three months of hard work, and we are excited at the possibility of making further differences in the workers' lives beyond the victories they have won in negotiations. We would like to emphasize that we have never been a party to union negotiations or pretended that negotiations were the proper channels for resolving our demands. It is clear to us that the union demands were largely informed by positions they imagined were possible and not positions they knew were just. In our minds, social change is not a zero-sum game.

If any of you would like to ask us questions or get clarifications, please come to Calvert Hall at 2pm for an open forum. You can also drop by Dr. O'Brien's office anytime between 9am and 9pm to speak to us one on one.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

 

another

Then again, it is becoming easier to see how what initially feels like progress can quickly dissolve into accusatory rhetoric. But this, unfortunately, is the state of our community... I hope we can break tonight with something towards fair wages. Some kind of a commitment. I hope you can all help us encourage the administration to start taking us seriously, and I will guarantee you that we're not stopping until people are treated fairly.

- Jake Child

 

Personal update

We're in discussion with Dr. O'Brien and Dr. Botzman right now, and I think we are all feeling satisfied with the direction of the conversation - towards a written agreement on a solidified plan to get our workers a living wage. It may not come tomorrow, but it's finally a discussion of a concrete plan.

From my e-mail is a new note from a faculty member:

"I am a new tenure-track hire and therefore new to these issues and SMCM. However, I am tremendously impressed with the students' eloquent and fact-based statement and gratified to hear of their courageous actions in solidarity with those who make the campus community possible."

Best, Dustin Howes.

I think I can speak for everyone when I say how much I appreciate receiving statements like this.

- Jake Child

 

We Cordially Invite You

To anyone, absolutely anyone, who wants to come by and see the sit-in and talk to the sitters-in we'd love to see you and talk to you. If you come by any time between 9 AM and 9 PM we can promise that we'll be awake and that at least one of us, probably a few of us will meet with you and answer any questions, and address any concerns that you might have about us or what we're doing.

Furthermore, we'd like to announce a open forum to meet and question the sitters in at 2 PM tomorrow (Friday Sept 22) on the front steps of Calvert Hall. If you think our message has been unclear or our requests unreasonable now's the chance to tell us and see what we think.

We hope to see you all soon in the Office of the President, on the steps of Calvert, and in St. Mary's Hall.

Check out TV 64 for a video compilation of personal testimonials from the sitters-in.

 
Personal response on the blog

My name is Liz Lawrence, and I am sitting in for workers’ rights.

I’m here for the housekeeper in Caroline hall, who, my freshman year, came in every morning and cleaned the piss and vomit off the bathroom floor. I’m here for the groundskeepers who cut the grass in the pouring rain. I’m here for all the workers who are asked to drive from hours away every day, who are asked to come in the early, early mornings, stay late into the night, and spend their weekends caring for this campus. I’m here for the staff who have been here for decades and are just now breaking $30,000 a year, the workers who literally can’t afford to retire.

Do you know what it means not to be able to afford to retire? It means coming to work every day. It means not knowing your future. It means working until you die. Too many workers at St. Mary’s College have given their lives to this institution for a level of compensation that is unacceptable. These workers deserve more. We students can help to give them more.

Our action may be radical, but our action is not unreasonable. We have chosen to take this action because we are disillusioned with the way that our comments to the people who can make change have been received in the past. In the past, we have felt ignored and rejected. We have felt that our opinions were considered valid but we haven’t seen any meaningful action taken. We are refusing to leave President Maggie O’Brien’s office until we see meaningful action be taken on this most important issue.

I know that more students than the 13 who have been sitting in Maggie’s office for the past 49 hours feel this way. I know that there are alumni out there who are thinking of us, who have graduated from St Mary’s having expressed concerns and having had them been ignored. And I know that if we leave and don’t continue to put pressure on the administration, then this practice of putting us off and waiting us out will only continue.

We are here to pressure the school to do the right thing. Please help us by standing in solidarity with the workers and students of St. Mary’s College. We need your support. Write a letter to Maggie O’Brien and Tom Botzman expressing your concerns. Call their offices. Stop by Calvert Hall and talk to one of the sitters.

We sincerely thank all of you who have sent us notes of encouragement and excitement! To those of you who have sent us notes of dissent, we invite and encourage you to come here and ask us questions so that we can clarify our positions. You know where to find us!

Love,
Liz

 
An employee of the college came by this morning while we were meeting with Tom Botzman. She quietly gave us the following note to pass on to him. It is now posted on his office door in Calvert (across the hall from us).

Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need.
The remainder is needed by others.

-St. Augustine

 
I thought I'd share a note that a supportive friend sent us with some mix CDs:

An activist once told me that no matter what kind of protest he is at, whenever someone ask him, "what are you protesting?" He says, "greed." Because ultimately, whether its environmental destruction, silencing sexual assault victims, or denying workers fair compensation, the root cause is always someone or some group of people who are taking more than their rightful share of money, power or other kinds of priviledge. Thank you to everyone who understands those connections, and cares enough to do something about it.

I'm so glad to know such wonderful people. You all give me hope that a better world is possible. I made you these mix CD's because I love you, I love your determination, I love your compassion, and I love the kind of world you are helping to create. I hope you guys think these mix CD's are fun and encouraging, and remind you that there are so many othere people out there who are part of the struggle for justice. There are songs on here that are about unions and workers, songs about feminism, anarchism, anti-war songs, and other songs about protest and hope. Thay are all songs against greed.

Love and solidarity,
Deirdre

 
It has come to our attention that some do not understand the logic behind our insistence on a raise in the student minimum wage and in hours of work available to students. “But isn’t this an action for the workers?” you might ask. Or perhaps, “You’re mad to ask for $10/hr! What opulence! What decadence!” And yet we stand firmly, calmly, secure in the knowledge that we see this aspect of our proposal as sound, righteous, and essential.

To begin with, the distinction between workers and students is blurred by the existence of working students. Working students, although often not subject to the financial obligations of many of the longer term staff (off campus housing and families) still operate under a heavy financial burden: the cost of education. “Enhancing accessibility, affordability, and diversity” is enshrined as one of the goals of the college as laid out in it’s Mission Statement. A key component in achieving that goal is to provide on-campus employment that, although it may not provide enough money to totally finance an education at St. Mary’s, a least makes a sizable dent. On-campus employment is especially important to students who do not have access to a car, particularly due to the lack of public transportation in St. Mary’s county. If the level of compensation is no high enough, efforts to afford a St. Mary’s education cannot help but serious interfere with being able to take advantage of the very experience that all one’s hard work goes to purchasing. If sufficient hours are not available on campus then, no matter how hard a student is willing to work, they might not be able to defray costs sufficiently.

The living wage that we are asking the college to implement for their employees, a yearly wage of $32,000, works out to $16/hr. The poorest paid employees (apart from the students) on the campus, the housekeepers, earn $23,000 per year, which works out to $11.50/hr and which they find to be insufficient to live with dignity in St. Mary’s county.

In light of this comparison, in light of the heavy and growing financial burden placed on students, and in light of the desire for student workers to have the freedom to explore and exploit the education they purchased our request of $10/hr and increased hours does not seem unreasonable to us.

We would further like to add, for those who accuse us of acting in our class interest, that the union has enthusiastically supported us in seeking a rise in the student minimum wage and an increase in hours available. Brenda, a housekeeper with more than her fair share of troubles, shook her head in disbelief and disappointment upon hearing that low level of pay for students. On this point, as on all the others, the union and the students recognize the necessity, the justice, and the mutual benefit of their implementation. As students and workers our interests are not confined to a narrow calculation of our financial advantage. Our interests lie in working to build a just and equitable world and improving the lo of all. As such, our cause is one, and any just measure will find us behind it, no matter who directly benefits.

 
Welcome Friends to the wild and wooly world of worker testimonials. We, the sitters-in, solicited stories and testimonials from the workers of this college with whom we are currently standing (or sitting or, for most of us right now, laying down) in solidarity. Many workers fear providing these stories, stories which are incredibly vital for the campus community to hear, out of concern that by speaking out about their experiences they will draw the ire of management down upon their heads. Unfortunately, those who are in the most vulnerable positions are also the most afraid of speaking up. We are currently working on getting more stories and more testimonials and making them available to you, gentle reader, as quickly as possible. Today we recieved two anonymous stories and one detailed testimonial from a couple workers. Here they are, for you, for them, for us:

Some time ago, the entire maintenance department was forced to deal with a supervisor that had substance abuse problems. This supervisor was once found passed out on the lawn, completely sloshed. They were also caught several times trying to scale the fence into the maintenance yard because they had forgotten their keys. After some time, and several incidents of lewd conduct, they were actually prohibited from making house calls - because they scared several students. Even after their inebriation necessitated on several occasions that they be driven home by public safety and, on other occasions, by SMC staff the college administrators continued to turn away our concerns.
The reasoning behind the college’s deliberate indifference to this individual’s “personal problems” appears questionable. We know that this individual’s in-laws donate large sums of money to the college, which implies what might really have motivated the actions (or non-actions) of the administration. After several years of substance related occurrences the administration finally asked the supervisor to vacate his position.

-/-

This is the story of one man supporting four children and a housewife. To do so, he must maintain two jobs in order to afford a reasonable livelihood. Employed at SMC for over 12 years on a regular 6 AM to 3 PM schedule, he and others have for the past several years been threatened by management with schedule changes - changes that would jeopardize his second job.
A couple of years ago this issue was addressed and resolved, only to be brought back up upon the arrival of a newly appointed director. This new director was also responsible for creating zones which leave five supervisors in charge of ten workers (an excessive and inefficient arrangement) which also resulted in the work force being cut by a third. This system has been a cause of serious delays in addressing maintenance issues.

-/-

My name is Jack Short and I have been employed at St. Mary’s College for nine years. I work in the Computer Center as a programmer analyst, and I make a decent wage to live on.
Why are these negotiations important?
1. A lot of the employees employed at SMCM earn far less than the poverty wage.
2. The infrastructure of St. Mary’s county is changing daily with new high paying positions moving into the area, thus raising prices on almost everything, especially housing and rents.
3. I want the employees at SMCM to be treated like human beings, and I think they should be treated with respect.
4. I think if employees work extra hours, then they should be paid overtime for these hours. Also, that paid leave should count towards hours worked for purposes of calculating overtime.
5. At the September all-staff meeting, about 30 new employees were introduced. Why so many? Wages is a big reason people leave along with being treated like they are not human.
6. Mandatory overtime should have a minimum number of hours that can be entered on the timesheet. This will stop management from forcing someone to drive 30 minutes one way to do a 10 minute job and getting to charge only 10 minutes to overtime.
7. Employees at SMCM continue to fall farther and farther behind since salary increases are not enough to cover price increases of everything around them (ex: medical insurance, electric, gas, etc.).

What I think of the student sin-in:
1. This is one terrific way of getting management’s attention.
2. It can only benefit all students and staff.
3. It is the only pulling power we have in getting higher wages for the staff.
4. I don’t want any of these students to get into any kind of trouble or to fail a course because of the sit-in.
5. Bottom line – I love it.
6. This sit-in was thought up by the students. The Union had no hand in it, even though I agree with what you are doing.

-/-

Thank you for reading this. For the sitters-in in Dr. O'Brien's office, this is Paul Blundell, saying "good night".

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

 

UPDATE - Open Letter - Please send comments

We, the students organized in President O’Brien’s office, would like to update the campus community on what’s been happening in the past 32 hours.

As you may already be aware, yesterday a group of students arrived in Calvert Hall in order to meet with President O’Brien and to stay in her office until we were satisfied that equality, fairness, and justice were established for workers on campus in a meaningful way. We are an independent group of students. However, we are working in solidarity with the worker’s union on campus in the pursuit of equality.

We gathered to ensure for our workers a fair living wage, overtime reform, longevity and merit pay, and representation on strategic committees. We want similar reforms for students. A complete list of precisely what we’re asking for is attached to this e-mail. We don’t believe that these are drastic demands, but feel free to review them for yourselves.

We feel that you all deserve an explanation of why we’re taking such drastic action. The answer is simple – we’re tired of hearing that the administration of our campus is “concerned” about student issues without seeing them take any concrete action. Grievances relating to sexual assault and domestic partner benefits, for example, have taken years and years to be addressed. We’re also tired of hearing about campus ideals of “respect” and “fairness” for everyone when housekeepers have to ask their families to help them pay rent because they can’t afford it on their absurdly low wages. And finally, we’re tired of a model where the two groups who make up the vast majority of the people on this campus, the workers and the students, are grossly underrepresented in its governance. We’ve also attached a couple of documents which, hopefully, will further explain and clarify our position.

We also want to clarify that funding for our workers is not necessarily a tuition issue. Not only do all the reforms we’re asking for make up less than 1% of the college budget, but that budget is itself compiled from a number of sources, including, but certainly not limited to, tuition. It is our sincere hope that Dr. O’Brien and Mr. Botzman can use the expertise for which we pay them over half a million dollars annually in order to creatively finance the basic living needs of our workers - without raising tuition.

We, the students, have committed not to leave this office until we’re satisfied that there is a concrete commitment to fairness and justice for the workers on behalf of the administration. It is within the power of Maggie O’Brien and Tom Botzman to cultivate the “sense of community” that is supposed to be a hallmark of St. Mary’s College by taking care of our demands. They have the ability to make executive decisions in the pursuit of justice and to take care of our staff right now. There is no more need for delay.

Thank You -

The Sitters

 

a note from Michael Glaser to Liz, one of the sitters, 9/20/06 12:19pm

Hi Liz –

just a personal note to you that I am so pleased and proud and excited about what you and other students have begun here in raising the very serious issues of fairness and living wages. We are so wonderfully privileged as faculty and administrators and students too – and it is essential, I think, that in a liberal arts community which values social responsibility and civic mindeness (as well as global engagement and respect), we ask the hard questions of our immediate environment that you are raising -- and that we seek meaningful answers and actions – as opposed to endless heated discussions. These are human lives and human communities we are dealing with, not simply “issues” for academic discussion.

I deeply regret that I have plans to be out of town this weekend—(I leave here at 4:00 A.M. tomorrow morning) but I want you and others to know of my full support for the important work you are engaging in. I will not be with you on Friday in person, but I will be in spirit, and I look forward to engaging with you in this important work in the future.

Michael Glaser
Professor of English
Maryland Poet Laureate

 

Sit-In Reaches 24th Hour

A personal message from Maury, one of the students occupying the presidential office in solidarity with the workers for justice and fairness:

It is with ambivalence that we report that a full day has elapsed since the sit-in began, and we are still here. We have succeeded in bringing our voice and our bodies to the supposed center of college power. Also we, but more importantly the students, faculty, and staff acting in solidarity outside of the office, have placed enormous pressure on the administration, as demonstrated by their knee-jerk reactions and counter-information campaign. and the excitement buzzing around campus.

The negative side is that we are still here. The administration has not yet committed or acted on their empty rhetoric and supposed ideals. We have succeeded in bringing our voice to the administration, we will stay until justice prevails, as we are certain it will.

Love and solidarity to the workers, students, support team, faculty, and administration
Maury

 

Quick personal update from a sitter...

When we decided to gather for a sit-in in the pursuit of justice and equality for our staff with other students in President O’Brien’s office yesterday, we committed not to leave until we got some results. Right now, we are in now way satisfied that there will be fairness and justice for workers at St. Mary’s College. Most importantly, we still require a strong institutional commitment to providing a living wage to all employees of St. Mary’s College.

Although the administration expressed a concern for the workers in discussion with us yesterday, they have in no way agreed to a concrete plan for resolving any of the demands that we’ve brought to their attention. To reiterate, we are gathered in order to ensure a fair living wage, overtime reform, longevity and merit pay, and representation on strategic committees for workers. These are not drastic demands. However, none of them have yet been acted on in a meaningful way, that is, a way that will put food on the table for workers, pay their rent, or help to purchase their children’s school uniforms.

A meeting in has been organized by the administration for this Friday at 3:00 P.M. in St. Mary’s Hall, in order to “accommodate the many students, faculty and staff who may wish to reflect on these issues.” However, we would like to reiterate that the students gathered here will not be leaving until we are certain that our workers will be treated fairly. Unless we accomplish our goals, more rhetoric from the administration this Friday will only serve to distract from the important reforms that are now on the table. It is within the power of Maggie O’Brien and Tom Botzman to commit to justice and take care of our staff right now. There is no more need for delay.

Thanks, and please read on below for more thoughts,

Jake Child.

 

The Rhetoric of Campus Power, or, Why I’m Sitting Here


Personal Statement by Brendan Conner, SMCM Sitter

“St. Mary’s is committed to the ideals of affordability, accessibility, and diversity. As Maryland’s public honors college, St. Mary’s offers an undergraduate, liberal arts education and small-college experience like those found at exceptional private colleges. St. Mary’s shares the hallmarks of private institutions: . . , a sense of community, and a spirit of intellectual inquiry. . . The St. Mary’s campus is one of uncommon charm, inspiring a powerful sense of belonging.” (Tab: ‘About St. Mary’s’; www.smcm.edu).

These counterfeit principles, and their bitter tastes, are all they offer up to us. In fact, they were all that Campus Power offered me when I was a freshman. In the middle of my first year I learned that some of my friends had been sexually assaulted and, following these life-negating acts, the mental and legal treatments of this crime and its aftereffects were abused by both Public Safety and a former member of Counseling Services.

My response was to organize, and I was determined that this ugliness would be resisted. I gave all I had in faith, and it seems to me now that the moment I walked through Calvert Hall’s door in protest that Campus Power was set on walking me out. For three years now I have been turned out by the promises and the rhetoric of the administration. Every time I left the offices of the SGA, the President or the, now former, Dean, the door would swing shut and I was left holding nothing but my own convictions. Simply put, this time I have chosen not to walk out that door.

It is clear to me that past actions and “democratic” expression of the underrepresented have, as of yet, not resolved the economic crisis faced by the workers. In just the same way, these actions have not succeeded in passing Domestic Partnership Benefits, proliferating Campus Democracy, or implementing the necessary recommendations made by the Sexual Assault Task Force.

These actions have made no change because, ultimately, Campus Power wants no change. The fact is that this administration is intent on a culture of closed-doors. They have chosen to privilege bureaucracy over mutual aid and action, and I can see now that their compassion ends at the tongue-end of their rhetoric.

My experiences as a student activist have, if anything brought me to this: student actions, and the administration’s always predictable, empty, and rhetorical reactions, are symptomatic of a campus-wide malfunction in vales, and a need for a real, and shared, movement towards change.

The campus community that exists, bruised and beaten as it is, can stay alive only with acts of mutual aid and cooperation. These generative actions supplant the blind free-market dialectic that is, according to the administration’s latest rhetoric, currently steering campus policy. It is clear to me that if Campus Power wishes to continue to push their “ideals” and “public honors college” agenda at the expense of community decision-making, based on fair and consensus-based initiatives, then, worker and student dissent will continue to effect itself on the seat of that Power.

Camps Power’s false rhetoric, whether championed by the administration—in admissions pamphlets, newspaper articles, or behind closed doors—must be resisted if Campus Democracy is to be achieved. The ho-humming and head-nodding that Campus Power uses against dissidents has proved, for me as it has for others, to yield no results and no justice.

That is why I believe it is time that we examine what the Admissions Office is doing, for whom, and why. It is high time to challenge the college’s desire to preserve its ‘Image’ at the expense of student, worker, and faculty security. Challenging college rhetoric as to the “small college experience” and the apparent “sense of community” currently fostering the “affordability, accessibility, and diversity” of the campus has to be acted out in defiance of the language, and the structure, of Campus Power (Tab: ‘About St. Mary’s’).

This is why, because of the current exploitative structure, a structure tacit in the very syntax of campus dialogue, a system of spreading misinformation and faceless deceit has been lauded over a simple truth. This truth is the truth to power, that we are never distinct from the suffering of or neighbors. This sit-in and this shared struggle are about speaking truth and life to all who need it—especially ourselves.

For these reasons I have come to hold the administration, and this entire campus, accountable for complacency in the face of injustice. This is why I have taken action. I believe the workers deserve a living wage and a decent life.

Therefore, I can now say that I sit in solidarity with the Workers of Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, and I sit with the tempered conviction that none of our causes are distinct. In this sense, our causes have become one cause, and these coactive decisions are the beginning of Power’s defeat.

Ensh'allah,
Brendan

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