Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) has involved itself in contract negotiations for service workers at UR in order to maintain their benefits.
Negotiations took place on Tuesday, Sept. 9. Because meetings are ongoing, exact details about the new contracts are unavailable. According to UR senior and SDS member Alysha Alani, the concerns raised are similar to those raised two years ago when SDS previously fought for the benefits of service workers at the University.
One of the workers’ goals is a minimum wage of no less than fifteen dollars an hour for those who have worked at UR for at least five years. This “Fight for Fifteen” movement is taking place not only in Rochester but around the country. Workers unions argue that an increase in wages for those who have worked for a certain amount of time is good for both the individual and the community.
In 2012, UR decided to institute changes that would result in higher premiums (4.7 percent of earned wages) for service workers’ health insurance while only raising wages by two percent. Junior Shenice Morris, another member of SDS, spoke with a food service worker who wished to remain anonymous.
“[He] has an eight-month-old son and a wife, and he is worried about not being able to provide for his family the way he would like to […] He says they usually depend on the students to help them negotiate with the school for a fair contract.”
“The average wage of a full-time service worker at UR is $27,900, which is just 4.5 paychecks away from the federal poverty line,” Alani said. “The University is the single largest employer of the city of Rochester and a major regional employer. Therefore, the decisions that come out of these negotiations affect more than just our campus community. They affect our entire city. Our service workers are some of the lowest-paid employees at our institution and some of the hardest-working.”
UR Dining Services employee and Executive Vice President of the local chapter of Service Employees International Union Dawn Marshall-Hosier said of the negotiations. “I am hopeful but apprehensive.” She stated that her main goal is to obtain contracts that are fair and respectful and provide the healthcare benefits and wages that service workers at the University deserve.
Marshall-Hosier acknowledged that the 2012 contract negotiations did not go as smoothly as she would have liked. “We were being squeezed,” she said. “We weren’t asking for more, just to keep what we had.” In the end, workers agreed to higher health insurance copays in spite of the fact that a majority of the workers receive healthcare services within the UR Medicine system.
Marshall-Hosier said of SDS’s role in negotiations, “When there’s distress and discord, folks who care will rally and support us.” Though negotiations have historically not gone as well as service workers would have liked, Alani is confident. “We are in solidarity with our workers and are prepared to engage the University should things escalate.”
O’Neil is a member of the class of 2017.