Students & Workers in Solidarity

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SWS Letter to Eric Bymaster - Class and Labor Committee Implementation Chair

Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on February 24, 2015 at 1:55 PM

Vice President Bymaster,


In April 2011, seven students – including four Emory students – were arrested on Emory's quad after camping out for five in days in protest of Emory's food service contract with Sodexo. Those students, all members of the campus organization Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS), raised several serious concerns regarding Sodexo's practices on our campus. These concerns included the denial of core benefits, including healthcare for part-time workers and MARTA cards for all workers; captive-audience anti-union meetings, in violation of international standards; disrespectful treatment towards workers, with no adequate grievance mechanism outside of Sodexo itself; and low wages that pose additional burdens for workers who typically face seasonal unemployment during the summer.


In response to SWS' allegations, along with the spectacle of the arrests, Emory established a Committee on Class and Labor to investigate the status of subcontracted (and other) employees on Emory's campus. For several months prior to the arrests, various members of the Emory administration asserted that there was no reason for concern over Emory's labor policies, that the independent human rights reports featuring Sodexo's practices were disputed and unreliable, and that SWS itself was merely a pawn of big unions looking to undermine Sodexo's credibility. When the Committee on Class and Labor released their report in 2013, however, it told a very different story. Far from a defense of the administration's claims, the report repeated – nearly word-for-word – many of the concerns that SWS had originally raised.


With the Sodexo contract set to expire in May 2015, Emory has an opportunity to enact the thoughtful and ethically serious recommendations put forward in the 2013 Committee on Class and Labor Report. We cannot emphasize strongly enough that the nature of the soon-to-be-concluded contract – in particular, whether the regulations it includes are strong, enforceable, and reflect the nearly four pages of concrete recommendations in the 2013 report – are the only material test of Emory's commitment to the well-being of its subcontracted workers. In the absence of such provisions, Emory has both abdicated its ethical responsibility to our community's workers and explicitly ignored the findings of the only Emory body to formally and thoroughly investigate the issue.


Any level of research on the issue reveals that Sodexo is a corporation with a disturbing history of malfeasance and a stated commitment to avoid regulation. Should the university choose to ignore its own recommendations, it will not only actively facilitate unethical business practices, but it will in effect force all freshmen and sophomore students on the mandatory meal plan to be party to their corruption, intimidation, and human rights violations.


To this point, the Class and Labor Implementation Committee has provided no clear indication that they intend to follow through on any meaningful aspect of the 2013 report. In fact, the differences between the 2013 report, and “checklist” released in 2014 in order to implement the report's findings, are striking. Essentially every specific, enforceable, and meaningful recommendation in the 2013 report is absent from the 2014 checklist. Instead, this latter document consists, almost exclusively, of vague and unenforceable statements of principle. The 2014 document contains no mention of freedom of association, no specific statements on what constitutes an acceptable benefits package, no mechanism for addressing concerns about adequate grievance procedures, no process for ensuring that Emory will be able to gain knowledge about subcontracted workers' experience, and no “minimum acceptable standards” on labor and ethical issues; all recommendations referenced in the 2013 report. The two attached appendices further document the substantial differences between these documents.


As students and concerned members of the Emory community, we request that the Class and Labor Implementation Committee publicly reaffirm its commitment to implementing the recommendations detailed in the 2013 Committee on Class and Labor Report. In particular, we are interested in what specific and enforceable provisions Emory intends to include in its final contract agreement. These provisions, in turn, should be made available to the Emory community for further clarification, discussion, and debate. Without specific policies designed to hold subcontractors accountable to Emory's values, and without the courage to open such policies to scrutiny from the entire Emory community, we do not believe that Emory can live up to its mission “to create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.”


Sincerely,


Mike Demers, 18C

Ross Gordon, 12C

Carly Moore, 18C

Andrew Jones, 17C

Students and Workers in Solidarity


Appendix 1: Excerpts from the 2013 Committee on Class and Labor's Findings and Recommendations


Wages, Benefits, and Two-Tiered Labor

[Emory should] “Identify and, where possible, seek to reduce significant differences between the circumstances of Emory’s staff and circumstances of contracted workers. In particular the University should:


a. strive to reduce significant gaps in wages between Emory and non-Emory workers on campus;


b. strive to reduce significant gaps between benefits of Emory and non-Emory workers on campus—e.g., standardized health screenings, parking policies, library and gym access, bookstore discounts, and other academic pricing requiring the Emory Card, carpool arrangements, MARTA card eligibility, access to (and information about) university facilities, local discount opportunities, tax counseling, and educational (and career development opportunities);


c. encourage a shift toward greater fulltime employment for contracted workers;


d. consider enrolling contracted employees within Emory’s health plans;


e. strive to ensure that contractors’ policies and practices regarding non-discrimination and grievances match the university’s”


Grievance Mechanisms

“All the companies indicate the presence of internal grievance mechanisms; several specifically note the availability of hotlines. Emory has no role in these mechanisms, and while questions have been raised by students and contract workers about the adequacy of these mechanisms, the university has no way of independently assessing them.”


Freedom of Association and Right to Organize

“(5) Explore how companies engage in practices like monitoring demonstrations and holding closed-door meetings with employees about labor organizing. The university should further determine whether such practices conflict with the university’s commitments to free expression. The outcome of this exploration could determine additional measures for assessing contractors both before selection and during regular evaluation.”


Ability For The University To Gather Information on Workers' Experience

“The committee was frustrated that we could not engage with contracted employees as we wished, and as we usefully did with Emory’s own employees. We could not gain independent information about important questions, such as whether some sets of contracted workers prefer part-time schedules, or whether employees find their company’s grievance procedures problematic. More generally, we could not ascertain how Emory’s contracted employees experience their situations on our campus. Notwithstanding the belief among Emory liaison officials that they have effective relations with these companies (exercising varying administrative styles), current arrangements limit the university’s review of these companies’ labor relations largely to reviewing what the companies themselves report. The university therefore cannot claim that it knows the status of the contracted workers’ experience.”


“[Recommendation] (4) Acknowledge explicitly and actively address the impediments—especially prevailing interpretations of strictures against “co-employment”—that currently prevent the university from gaining independent knowledge about contractors’ employees. Emory also should give high priority to finding solutions to these obstacles—soliciting access to the companies’ worker surveys, for example, or commissioning third-party reviews.”


Specific and Implementable Standards

“In any case, what is needed are directly relevant and implementable standards that attend to a company’s record of labor relations. The Labor Code of Conduct proposed by Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS) might serve as a reference for the kind of standards that would be appropriate... Other universities also have posted such codes on their websites, and these also may serve as references.”


“...assessments of major contractors [should] take into account their current and recent performance in other universities or relevant institutions; should be guided by clear and directly relevant standards; should be both formative (i.e., informal and ongoing) and summative (i.e., annually and at time of contract renewal); and should review various facets, including service, safety, financial performance, and—importantly—contractors’ demonstration of satisfactory labor relations.”


Measurable Ethical Standards and Minimal Acceptable Standards

“ii. Develop a checklist of institutional values and practices (e.g., wage guidelines, passing of National Labor Relations Board standards, meeting measurable ethical standards, nondiscrimination in all of Emory’s categories, range of benefits... against which potential contractors’ practices would be measured. Scores on the checklist are to be balanced against financial benefits to the university. To aid this process, the university should identify a minimally acceptable score on the checklist as well as ethical criteria that must be met.”


Appendix 2: Full 2014 “Checklist” Released by the Class and Labor Implementation Committee

II. When Outsourcing, the Following Key Principles Should be Considered When Selecting a Vendor that Employs Staff Who Work on Emory’s Campus (Principles to be used for the contracts reviewed by the advisory group described below).

a. Integrity

b. Fairness

c. Respect for the individual

d. Compliance with U.S. and state law

e. Safe and healthy working conditions

f. Adherence to ethical business practices

g. Good stewardship of the University’s financial resources

h. Consistency with Emory’s ethical principles


III. Institutional Values and Practices that will be Considered When Selecting a Vendor that Employs Staff Who Work on Emory’s Campus (Consideration of these values/practices to be used for the contracts reviewed by the advisory group described below).

a. Compliance with Emory’s minimum rate of pay (mandatory for vendors that have 50+ employees on campus)

b. Nondiscrimination in all of Emory’s categories (http://policies.emory.edu/1.3, Section 1.3.2)

c. Demonstrated commitment to diversity (http://provost.emory.edu/community/areas/)

d. Demonstrated commitment to sustainability (http://sustainability.emory.edu/)

e. The vendor’s employee benefits package (including, but not limited to, access to medical insurance, leave policies, retirement benefits)

f. Providing adequate grievance procedures through their employer

g. Support of work/life balance (http://www.worklife.emory.edu/index.html)

h. Providing career development paths and training

i. Attention to the impact of seasonal and part-time employment practices

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