by Nicolas Tourani
As Pitzer has focused more and more heavily on improving its prestige through ratings, admission rates, and the expansion of facilities, a number of its more financially vulnerable workers have begun to cautiously speak out about inequality in the workplace.
Now, a number of 5C students, formerly working together under Workers for Justice, have started a new group called the Claremont Student-Worker Alliance (CSWA) to bring attention to the issues raised by Pitzer workers from the custodial, maintenance, culinary, and grounds departments. The recent focus of their efforts has been to pressure the Administration into taking action to help workers who are unable to afford medical expenses.
“A lot of money is being taken out of our paychecks for the medical insurance,” stated a Pitzer worker who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
Still, the worker remarked, when it comes time for sick or injured workers to see a doctor, “a lot of us workers can’t afford to pay the co-pay for the visits, and if the doctor gives us prescriptions we can’t afford those either.”
This, according to the source, leads to many workers being unable to see doctors when necessary. Instead, these sick or injured employees come to work without receiving proper care, leading to a decrease in the morale of the workers along with the potential danger of increased spread of illnesses, and further incidence of injuries on campus.
According to one worker who spoke anonymously, Pitzer used to give these lower-paid workers, “a 5% raise each year, then for a few years they received no raise and recently it has been a 2% raise each year, but insurance goes up consistently by 5% each year.”
So according to these workers, as insurance rates and the cost of living have continued to rise, their raises have actually decreased. This makes it more difficult for them to remain financially stable and/or support their families.
The negative changes, however, have not been limited solely to problems involving the cost of healthcare. According to an anonymous worker, many of the benefits that Pitzer used to give these workers, in order to show the college’s appreciation for their work, have been cut in the last few years.
These include many events for the workers such as holiday dinners and potlucks, during which they felt truly appreciated for the work they had done on campus, and experienced a sense of community and celebration. Lower-wage workers who all used to receive free meals in the dining halls have now had food cut from their benefits. And, kitchen workers who choose to eat in the dining halls now have money taken out of their paychecks for these meals.
This feels especially disrespectful for them, as they are acutely aware of the large amount of food thrown away after each meal due to excess production. The kitchen workers are essentially being charged for the food that is about to become trash. This extra food could easily be given to the workers free of charge.
Additionally, the fact that only the lowest-paid workers are required to clock in, while higher paid workers around them send in their times on the internet has given some lower-paid workers the impression they are being more closely monitored than others. And, in the case that they want to work overtime to cover expenses such as medical costs, they feel they are given little to no opportunity to do so.
For one worker, what used to be a work environment that felt like family, where administrators and management would smile, say hi, and ask how their day was going now feels very different.
“Higher-ups are too good to say hi,” the worker explained, “the school says one thing and does another. They say they’re more liberal and non-discriminatory, but behind the doors there is discrimination against the poorer workers.”
For this worker, the bond between the workers, students, and faculty has been one of love and appreciation on all sides, but when it comes to management and the administration there is a lack of respect, appreciation, and care for workers who are most economically vulnerable. This could be due to a lack of communication between management and the administration, leading to ignorance among the administration about instances of discrimination occurring between workers and those in charge of them.
In order to fill in the gap they see between the voices of the workers and the actions of the Administrators, students from the 5Cs created the Claremont Student-Worker Alliance in order to foster dialogue between themselves and the workers, and use students’ voices to pressure the administrations to consider workers’ concerns.
Many of these students had been working together for some time under the banner of Workers for Justice with the intention of protecting workers’ rights, and the change in name reflects only a new sense of purpose directed at bringing in more student, faculty, and worker participation. The group’s main focus so far, as stated in their declaration, has been to pressure Pitzer to review the high prices workers pay for medical insurance, “take actions to alleviate the results of these costs, and reduce the payroll deductions for medical insurance,” via a reallocation of money from the Budget.
“The group is trying to get the word out amongst students,” Caroline Bourscheid, an organizer of CSWA said. “It is trying to rally support and show that the student body really cares about these issues.” The voices of the students are necessary now, Bourschield continues, because, “They [the Administration, Management] have not made the workers’ concerns a priority.”
CSWA has already enjoyed what Bourschield described as “heavy interest and eagerness to get involved amongst the student body at Pitzer, as well as heavy support from many faculty members who are concerned with workers’ rights.”
They have also been given audience by President Trombley, who reiterated claims from over a year ago that she would propose a budget reallocation to combat the health insurance problems faced by Pitzer workers.
After the meeting with the President, Bourschield said, “I’m skeptical but I’m also hopeful.”
The President did give the students a legitimate time frame along with numbers and details to back up her claims, but the group was still somewhat concerned that changes for workers’ healthcare might be delayed further. The group called for further student pressure to show that this issue is, and will continue to be, high on the priority list of the student body.
“There is definitely a disconnect between Pitzer’s values and the way it treats its workers,” Bourschield said. “I was disillusioned when I realized that Pitzer’s actions don’t seem to match their words.”
So are the lower-wage workers unfairly bearing the economic brunt of Pitzer’s priority shift from internal community to external image and rankings concerns? Discussions with those involved in the Claremont Student-Worker Alliance seem to indicate this as true. The best way to find out might be to get to know some of the staff, if you don’t already, and ask them yourself.
For more information about Claremont Student-Worker Alliance you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or “like” the Workers for Justice Facebook page at www.facebook.com/workersforjustice .