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Students Supporting Campus Housekeepers

How the Allegheny College Student Labor Coalition supported campus housekeepers through a union contract negotiation and the pandemic

housekeeper, coalition, student coalition A flyer created by the Coalition for Labor in collaboration with the housekeepers’ union shows coalition co-chair Shula Bronner (left) with campus housekeeper Trudy Sampson.

Custodians on college campuses have gained greater appreciation among students during the COVID-19 pandemic, but student recognition of cleaning and maintenance staff goes back several years at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

In 2016, students formed the Coalition for Labor to support campus housekeepers who were asking for a pay raise, Shula Bronner, a junior majoring in political science and current co-chair of the coalition, told CMM.

Bronner was not a student when the last contract negotiations between St. Moritz Building Services, the company that contracts the housekeepers, and the Workers United Union were occurring. However, she said the student coalition was created to show Allegheny administration, which is not involved in the contract negotiations, and the building services contractor that “students care about how housekeepers are treated.” She added the coalition “support[s] all workers on campus
in general.”

“As a student who lives on campus, [I think] housekeepers play a really important role in building our campus community by keeping our spaces clean,” Bronner said. “We definitely have to give credit to the housekeepers for doing such a great job of keeping our spaces clean, which is why we were able to have an on-campus semester. We just really believe that they are members of our community, and they deserve to be treated fairly and with respect.”

Bronner, who got involved in late 2019, co-chairs the coalition with another student and with the help of a faculty advisor. The coalition has shown support for workers in many ways since its creation, especially for housekeepers. Coalition members write articles in the student newspaper, The Campus, to raise awareness, and hold worker appreciation brunches. In 2020, the group collected and delivered thank-you notes to campus workers “to show how much students and faculty appreciate them and the work they do.” 

The coalition also organized a campus poster campaign to show support during the recent contract negotiations, Bronner said, and last November the student newspaper ran an article about the housekeepers’ contract demands.

Bronner said the coalition supported everything the housekeepers asked for in their contract—to receive hazard pay due to the coronavirus pandemic, additional personal protective equipment (PPE), better pay, and better benefits. According to Bronner, the negotiations were supposed to happen in April, but due to the pandemic they were rescheduled to November and were ongoing until recently. 

Chris Miller, a Workers United Union representative, said in a written statement that negotiations went well. 

“We voted and it was voted in overwhelmingly by the yes vote,” Miller said. “Our members also received a one-time bonus for their hard work, which at this point they have received, just in time for the holiday season. Our team did a great job, and with [the Coalition for Labor students’] help it was a huge success.”

Allegheny College has currently switched to remote learning, but housekeepers are still working on campus since some students and faculty remain there. The coalition will continue to support cleaners and other campus workers through these transitions in the new year. 

           
Posted On February 4, 2021

Rocio Villaseñor

Editorial Intern at Cleaning & Maintenance Management

Rocio Villaseñor is a former editorial intern at Cleaning & Maintenance Management. She has a handful of internship and freelance experiences from industries such as health, business, politics, education, and media. Villaseñor holds a Master’s degree in Public Affairs Journalism from Columbia College Chicago.

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