On Monday, Nov. 24, roughly 150 students and staff members held a rally in the All Campus Dining Center (ACDC) to support ACDC workers who are fighting for changes to their treatment by the Administration and their labor conditions. Vassar’s Student/Labor Dialogue (SLD), an organization for laborers and students to work together to foster transparency around workers’ issues at Vassar, create a community for students and workers to meet and connect, and push for better working and learning conditions at Vassar, organized and publicized the rally.
Together, students and workers in the SLD, founded less than three years ago, seek create a social space to meet and connect and to rally together for better wages, benefits and overall working conditions for Vassar workers. In broader terms, the SLD is a forum to address issues of socioeconomic class disparity since many issues which workers face, such as unaffordable health care and debt, are the same issues students face.
At this rally as well as in recent weeks, the workers have argued that the unfair schedule changes not only push a disproportionate amount of hardhsip onto them, but also serve to mask a larger problem of understaffing in ACDC itself. One student from the SLD commented in an emailed statement, “As a result of the buy-out program, seven full-time employees have either already retired or are retiring in January, and management only plans to replace two of those jobs. The schedule changes changed several 40-hour/week positions to 32-hour/week positions, effectively eliminating another position.”
The student continued, “Workers in the Deece are already overworked. This amounts to a permanent speed-up of the work process, permanently overworking ACDC workers.”
The buy-out plan referenced is the Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program, instituted by the College this summer to reduce the size of the workforce, eventually reducing staffing by 68 people. The full effects of the policy will become evident to students and staff at the beginning of the semester when the final wave of individuals officially leave the College.
Representatives from the SLD view these shifts in schedule shifts as a means of hiding the issues this program will cause. The continued, “These drastic schedule changes are management’s way of dealing with understaffing, and it’s not going to fix the problem. Rather than replacing the jobs that have been lost, management is proposing to change everyone’s schedules, making it extremely difficult for workers to take care of their families, maintain their second jobs and livelihoods, etc.”
The student continued, “Changing the schedules won’t change the fact that there are less people to do the work. As long as these positions remain unfilled, workers in ACDC will be overworked and understaffed.”
In conjunction with their protests, the students organizing the petition released a statement illustrating their stance on the issue. The statement read, “We believe that the College needs to fill open positions in the ACDC instead of pushing more work on current workers without an increase in pay. Not only do we recognize the vital role workers of ACDC play in making the College run, but we also see that the injustices workers are facing on campus are connected to a global trend of increasing inequality in the workplace.”
It continued, “When students and workers come together in solidarity, we show administration the kind of community we want at Vassar—one built on respect and justice.”
Students gathered together on the small side of ACDC at 9 a.m. to begin their action. They sang songs and chants that highlighted the issues they saw with schedule changes and understaffing. Some of the lyrics included, “We are working extra hours, staffing cuts across the board but the College keeps a billion bucks while the endowment soars. But when we fight together our demands can’t be ignored, for united we are strong!” Another portion said, “Workers’ rights are under attack, SLD has got your back! Hey, Ruth Spencer, listen up! We won’t take these staffing cuts.”
While the students engaged in chants and songs, several ACDC employees addressed the crowd, speaking about their struggles with schedule changes and understaffing and the problems that they posed.
The students at the rally remained outside of the office of the ACDC management while they engaged in discussions with the employees regarding the rescheduling. The students cheered while employees walked to the office to commence the meetings and continued to chant their demands while the meetings were in session.
The SLD and students alike have lauded the demonstration as an important gesture in the fight to show the College the ramifications of its actions toward workers on campus. Organizer of the grassroots community organization Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson Spencer Resnick ’15 remarked, “This rally provided community support to workers who are fighting back against understaffing and exploitation in their workplace. The Administration, like employers around the world, [has] a strategy of forcing workers to do more with less and not get paid for it.”
He went on to note, “Dining center workers, with support from SEIU and the SLD, have begun a long-term fight against this strategy for a better workplace.”
Going forward, those who were present for the rally hope to continue to raise awareness among the student body about the perceived mistreatment of workers on campus and to promote solidarity and fairness between members of the Vassar community.
Samantha Kohl ’17, who attended the rally, remarked, “I think it’s very important that we realize that these are the people we see everyday, who cook our food, and provide our sustenance. We should treat them with the respect that they deserve for the work they do and because they are members of our community.”