Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like people don’t realize that the employees they see serving food in Danforth Dining Center are just a fraction of a larger group of workers at UR. This group consists of people that work not only in Danforth, but also at Wilson Commons, the Eastman School of Music, Douglass Dining Center, in the post offices, at Strong Memorial Hospital and in all the residence halls.
I am a freshman that lives in the Susan B. Anthony Residence Halls. I am busy all day long, usually with a mixture of school, work and extracurriculars. Although I’m busy, I feel comfortable all day. I think that’s largely because of the people that work ridiculously hard to keep this school running.
Every morning when I wake up, I see my floor’s service worker, Ed. He keeps everything looking nice and running adequately. Sometimes we have nice conversations. But sometimes when I’m in a rush, he just says: “Hey man, what’s up?” I usually respond: “Not much, Ed. How are you?” He always says the same thing: “I’m great man, I hope you have a great morning.”
When I go to Danforth, I look forward to seeing long-time Danforth employee Dawn. She smiles at me, asks me how I am and what I’m up to. And, as always, she encourages me and supports my endeavors.
If I’m having a rough day, or when I’m worried about the day ahead of me, these people mean the world to me. They respect me, I respect them and I can only hope that I brighten their day as much as they brighten mine.
But not everyone respects them like I do.
The contract that ensured worker’s benefits recently expired and a new one is being negotiated. Our University administration is attempting to cut the benefits of the workers of the Local 200 and 1199 unions. If the University succeeds, workers on average would pay a total of over $3,000 for minimal health coverage. Based off the typical pay of a service worker in the union, they are less than five checks from being under the national poverty line. Most of these workers are people who live here in Rochester, people of color and parents of small children. With this new contract, the University is essentially threatening the most vulnerable workers on this campus with poverty.
Why are they doing this?
I would think that it’s because the school is trying to save money. But then I remember that tuition increases every year, there’s the Meliora Challenge to raise 1.2 billion dollars and that there’s funding from the government and a multi-billion dollar endowment.
So it couldn’t be that we need the money, but then again, it must be, right? Why else would the University push such a heartless measure? According to UR, the explanation is that it just isn’t “practical” for workers to have full healthcare coverage from their employers. The University doesn’t need the money -— they just want it — and it’s not “practical” if they don’t get what they want. What’s not practical is threatening the livelihood of over a thousand workers with poverty.
As students, we have a tremendous amount of power since we provide the University with a lot of its money. If we all speak out against this injustice, we will be heard. They will be forced to hear us.
So, to all the workers of the River Campus, Eastman and the UR Medical Center: You are not alone.
To Dawn and Ed: You are not alone.
I am only one of thousands of students that support your fight for a fair contract.
Salazar is a member of the class of 2016.