Our service workers are essential to the running of the University and deserve not only our praise, but also our respect. Yet, their diligence and commitment to the community cannot be admired if their rights as workers and human beings are not also addressed. After listening to stories and feedback from many service workers, mostly from Frist Campus Center and Facilities, we, the Young Democratic Socialists of Princeton, object to this treatment and demand that the University do better. We do not seek to deny the ability of campus workers to act on their own; instead, we aim to leverage our positions as students to bring these demands to the administration. Student actions in solidarity with workers do not preclude workers from acting on their own behalf; rather, they strengthen workers’ ability to advocate for themselves by bringing greater awareness to their situation. The Princeton administration has failed in its moral duty to treat its workers with respect by not fully compensating them for their labor and not providing for their needs.
The University’s handling of the snowstorms this year has revealed significant flaws in its treatment of workers. On March 14, the day of “Snowstorm Stella,” the University declared an emergency and remained closed until 5 p.m. Only workers deemed emergency essential employees were asked to come to work during the storm. As the Daily Princetonian reported, 35 of these “essential employees” slept in cots in the basement of Frist the night before the storm. In response to student outrage, the University stated that those who slept on campus overnight chose to stay to avoid traveling on dangerous roads. In fact, this is standard practice; the University usually houses its essential staff in emergency shelters such as Dillon Gym or Frist MPR during weather emergencies.
While we are glad that the University offered essential staff the option to stay on campus, we object to their poor accommodations and lack of proper compensation for their labor. We submit two demands, crafted with the guidance of campus workers.
First, we call upon the University to provide back pay to its employees who worked at any time on February 9 and March 14 during the snowstorms but did not receive overtime pay because their shifts did not fall within the “emergency period.” The University declares when an emergency begins and ends and therefore decides who gets overtime pay and who doesn’t. But simply because the University declares an emergency situation to be “over” does not mean that the roads have become less snowy or less dangerous. Those who came to work before 5 a.m. or after 5 p.m. still had to drive to or from home in a snowstorm, but they did not receive any compensation. Additionally, those who came to work during the emergency period were paid overtime only until 5 p.m., even if their shifts extended further into the night. If you have traveled through a snowstorm or in abnormal road conditions to get to or from work, you should be paid overtime for your whole work shift.
Second, we demand that, in the case of emergencies, the University will guarantee its workers comfortable, private accommodations in a hotel. At a University with a multi-billion-dollar endowment, no one should have to choose between driving home in a snowstorm and sleeping in a basement with dozens of other people. In fact, the University put up the managers in hotels, while lower-level workers slept in the basement in cots. Princeton clearly had the ability to privately house the workers, but only did so for the managers. The University should not discriminate based on pay grade. All workers deserve to sleep on beds and in private lodgings. Additionally, the University knew about the snowstorm days in advance and could easily have made preparations to house workers in any of the dozens of hotels in and around Princeton.
In order to make our demands heard, we will be holding a march in solidarity with the workers of Princeton this Thursday, April 27 at 4:15 p.m. in front of Richardson Auditorium. This march is the first step in familiarizing the student community with the issues that campus workers face, even at a place like Princeton. Many campus workers we have spoken with have expressed that they greatly enjoy their jobs and interactions with students. Yet the fact that the workers like their jobs is not an argument against treating them better. We simply seek to improve their working conditions, particularly with regard to extreme weather events like the February 9 and March 14 snowstorms.
Even though some of the workers who have approached us are union members and union stewards, we are not organizing this march through the union because according to the workers, the union is not able to organize an action of its own in a timely and effective manner in response to the snowstorms.
The University has failed its workers, and we students noticed. After students learned that service workers had slept in Frist during the March 14 snowstorm, University Student Government President Myesha Jemison ’18 created a Google Form for students to submit notes to campus workers in response to the snowstorm. 380 notes poured in expressing gratitude, love, and outrage on behalf of the workers, and a letter of thanks was published in the Daily Princetonian. We invite all who wish to support our community’s workers to join us in protest, as we seek to translate expressions of gratitude into concrete action.
By praising workers for their diligence and commitment to students, the University often implicitly justifies their unsatisfactory working conditions. We cannot let workers be mistreated in our name. It’s time that we use our power as students to demand that the University compensate its workers for their labor and give them the respect they deserve.
The Young Democratic Socialists of Princeton
YDSP is a left-wing student group committed to educating, organizing, and mobilizing the campus community in the struggle for social change. Our vision of socialism is profoundly democratic, feminist, and anti-racist.