Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

Dining staff protests University's treatment of furloughed workers

By NATALIE WU | May 2, 2020

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COURTESY OF KATIE TAM

Protesters object University decision to suspend payments for its furloughed workers. 

UNITE HERE Local 7, a chapter of the international labor union that represents Hopkins employees in food service, staged a rally on Homewood Campus on Friday afternoon in response to the University’s decision to suspend payment to its furloughed workers.

According to a UNITE HERE Local 7 announcement, the University has reneged on a private commitment it made in late March with union representatives to provide four weeks of uninterrupted pay for furloughed and laid-off contract workers. 

This announcement comes as one of many University attempts to cut costs. Two weeks ago, the University announced it planned to suspend contributions to most faculty and staff retirement plans, restrict faculty and staff hiring and freeze base salary increases for faculty and staff as part of austerity measures intended to cut the University’s losses in FY21.

At the rally, over one dozen workers standing approximately six feet apart held up signs that read “WE ARE ESSENTIAL.”

The protestors also read off the names of dining staff that had been affected by the pandemic and the University shutdown.

The workers emphasized the essential services they provide for the University, noting how they risk their lives feeding students and face difficulties navigating newfound unemployment. 

Ganesha Rouse, who has worked for Hopkins for eight years, expressed her disappointment with the University’s decision.

“We work very hard, and we’ve been here for a long time,” Rouse said.

Rouse emphasized that because dining staff wears “Johns Hopkins University” on their uniforms, they should be honored as and considered part of the Hopkins community.

“I’m just hoping they can honor their word and give us the money,” Rouse said.

Shortly after the rally, the University released a statement updating how it plans to support furloughed and laid-off workers. 

“We have not reversed course but instead have been exploring the most beneficial options for these valued team members through their employer,” the statement reads. 

According to the statement, the University is concerned about the ramifications of its actions on workers’ eligibility for benefits provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act was passed in late March. Among other provisions, it provides $290 billion in direct payments to eligible taxpayers and $260 billion in expanded unemployment insurance.

“Any wage payment facilitated through Johns Hopkins could impact these workers’ eligibility for the maximum relief available to them by interrupting or delaying their unemployment benefits,” the statement reads.

The statement also reaffirmed the University’s commitment to creating a relief fund to provide financial assistance for contract workers and employees facing hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, according to the union, the relief fund lacks detail, and workers are in need of immediate financial relief. 

Senior Aran Chang reflected on the University’s alleged decision in an interview with The News-Letter.

“[The University] kept defending [itself] last year during the private police protests, saying, ‘We’re the biggest employer in Baltimore; we give so much to the community,’” Chang said. “This is a time that they actually have to live up to those words and say, ‘We’re the biggest employer in Baltimore, and that’s why we’re going to make sure that we take care of all these people.’”

Senior Evan Drukker-Schardl agreed with Chang. He hoped the protest would raise awareness of the University’s actions.

“More than 500 people signed a petition to support the workers’ bargaining position within 24 hours in March,” he said. “On Thursday, enough people called the President’s office that they stopped answering the phones. Today’s protest is just one more demonstration that the Hopkins community stands in solidarity with workers.” 

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