Roughly 60 students, dining workers and security guards surprised University administrators on Friday, Feb. 3 by holding a protest in Garland Hall. They demanded new policies benefitting all contract workers, who are not directly employed by the University.
The group of protesters, known as the Student-Labor Action Coalition, are calling for a meeting with University President Ronald J. Daniels to discuss their three demands.
The first is that contract workers will have guaranteed job security when the University changes contractors. The second demand is for the University to ensure all contract workers receive a $15 per hour minimum wage. Third, the Coalition demanded that contract workers receive a housing benefits program similar to the “Live Near Your Work Program,” which provides grants and assistance for direct University employees to buy and find housing near campus.
The Coalition is a group of local trade unions and student organizations on campus. It includes Unite Here Local 7, SEIU 32BJ, the Black Student Union (BSU), Hopkins Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the graduate student union Teachers and Researchers United (TRU).
Unite Here Local 7 represents 180 of the workers employed by the University’s dining service Bon Appétit, while SEIU 32BJ represents 150 workers who work for Allied Universal Security, commonly known as “Hop Cops.”
Students and workers began gathering at 3 p.m. in Hodson Hall where they held a short rally before marching to Garland. The workers and students who spoke explained why they were marching, and the steps that they had previously taken.
Krista Strothmann, a Unite Here organizer, said that the march’s purpose was to demand that Daniels respond to their November letter asking for a meeting to discuss their proposals.
“Together we are fighting for equality and justice at Johns Hopkins University,” she said. “We are not here for one group of workers, or another, but for all sub-contract workers on this campus.”
Members from the various groups involved gave speeches to the crowd.
“We honestly just want to thank everyone for coming out and supporting us, and sticking with us through this fight because it’s definitely going to be a fight,” Latifah Pearson, a dining worker, said.
Junior Jessa Wais, an SDS member, argued that the University has a responsibility to its workers given its role within Baltimore.
“To quote President Daniels again, the health and well-being of Johns Hopkins are inextricably linked to the physical, social and economic well-being of Baltimore,” she said. “What better way to prove our commitment to Baltimore, to the wellbeing of Baltimore and to the well being of Hopkins than to treat our workers with dignity and respect?”
Wais stressed that the University should be setting an example for all employers and that it matters how Hopkins treats its contract workers.
“We aren’t just fighting for workers rights, we are fighting for their families, we’re fighting for neighborhoods, for the city of Baltimore and for our future,” she said.
Following the rally, the protesters marched to Garland Hall, where they occupied the lobby, held signs and chanted, “What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!” and “President Daniels you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”
About a half a dozen workers and students then broke off and headed up to Daniels’ office to deliver their November letter and demand a meeting to discuss their proposals.
Someone in the office then locked the door, as protesters continued to chant outside and pound on the door and windows. After a few minutes, James Page, interim Chief Diversity Officer, approached the protesters.
Page told the protestors that Daniels was not in his office, but Page agreed to take their letter and deliver it to Daniels. Page later explained what happened to The News-Letter.
“I’m not really familiar with the exact situation, but Krista [Strothmann] told me she wrote a letter to Daniels and she hadn’t received a response,” Page said. “[She] wanted me to deliver this to President Daniels and also see about getting a brief conversation, and I told her that we would do the best we can about those two requests.”
The protesters agreed to disband and they left chanting, “We’ll be back! / greedy / We’ll be back!”
Donald Lee, who has worked on campus for 13 years and currently works in Levering Hall, spoke about why it is important the University listens to the Coalition’s demands.
“We all deserve more than a sinking way to live. The cost of living is going up and our pay seems to constantly be going down, and it’s completely unfair. Over 35,000 employees in the state of Maryland work for Johns Hopkins,” he said. “It’s unfair how we come in here, we give it our all, and we don’t get the proper respect we deserve.”
Vice-Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger explained that the University did respond to the two student groups who co-signed the November letter. However, they did not respond to the letter’s other co-signers.
Shollenberger stressed that contract workers are not directly hired by the University, which is why they do not receive the same support as University employees.
“Part of this issue is that the workers are contracted with BAMCO, which is the Bon Appétit organization, so they’re actually not University employees,” he said. “They are employees of BAMCO. Part of what they are lobbying for is that those workers have the same benefits as the University.”
He also mentioned that the Union is in talks with Bon Appétit after the previous contract expired on Jan. 31. The original agreement between Local 7 and Bon Appétit was negotiated in June 2013, when the company replaced Aramark.
“We aren’t at the bargaining table, that really is between the union and BAMCO,” Shollenberger said. “But we certainly are in touch with BAMCO, and we want to make sure that their employees are treated fairly, and even though they’re not officially University employees, they’re still members of our community.”
Strothmann, along with other members of the Coalition, argued that this is not about one union but all contract workers on campus. They explained that these are sweeping policy changes that the University can implement for the contract companies it employs.
Senior Corey Payne, co-chair of SDS, attacked Daniels and his administration for their treatment of contract workers.
“We have three really kind of reasonable demands: a living wage, a guarantee of continued employment when they switch contractors and equality in housing benefits for employees that are subcontracted with those that are directly employed,” he said.
Alberta Palmer, who is one of the Local 7 organizers, argued that given Daniels’ compensation, the University can afford to make sure workers are paid $15.
“You need to pay the workers at least $15 an hour; There’s no reason why he’s getting paid $3 million a year, and he can’t provide that,” she said.
In response to accusations that the University does not understand the purpose behind the Coalition, Shollenberger disagreed.
“We understand the campaign and would be happy to discuss the issues with our students or student groups,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Shollenberger said the University has already started talking to students about these demands.
“We have reached out to student leaders to start those conversations and look forward to opportunities to discuss the topics being raised through this effort.”
A few days after the demonstration, SDS posted a letter on Facebook updating its members following Friday’s protest. The post stated that Shollenberger has reached out and that the Coalition responded by asking when they can meet with Daniels to discuss their demands.
Payne also said that undergraduates are becoming more organized at Hopkins.
“We’ve been picking up steam with lots of different things, and so we already have infrastructure in place to get people to turn out,” he said “It was a secret event, not one of the big rallies, and it stayed secret. We didn’t have security here, President Daniels didn’t know until we got in the door that we were here.”
Alyssa Wooden contributed reporting.