Campus, News

Boston University workers march for better job contracts

Chanda Jones, a part-time custodian at Boston University, discusses her experience working at BU and the lack of job support she feels from the university.  PHOTO BY ALEX MASSET/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Chanda Jones, a part-time custodian at Boston University, discusses her experience working at BU and the lack of job support she feels from the university. PHOTO BY ALEX MASSET/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University workers and union leaders gathered at Marsh Plaza Wednesday to demand stronger, fairer contracts from the administration. The protesters marched from the plaza to 1 Silber Way, where BU President Robert Brown’s office is located.

Negotiations for a new, multi-year contract between BU and 32BJ SEIU, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union and the largest property service union in the nation, began in August 2013.

“In two weeks, the contract that covers the working conditions of 700 workers here at Boston University that work as custodians and skilled trade workers will expire,” said Roxana Rivera,  director of 32BJ SEIU District 615. “We only have two weeks left to get to a good contract and 32BJ SEIU and Boston University are still not in agreement. We’re here to express the urgency of maintaining good jobs here in Boston.”

Approximately 100 workers who will be covered by the new contract protested and marched down Commonwealth Avenue. The current contract, which expires on Oct. 31, is not sufficient for these workers to maintain a normal lifestyle in Boston, said Eugenio Villasante , assistant director of communications for SEIU’s local 32BJ.

“Just like everyone that lives in the Boston area, the skyrocketing cost of living is an issue for workers,” he said. “It makes it tough for working families to make ends meet. Health care is a big issue because the health care costs have been going up and up. We want to make sure workers have quality health care at a reasonable cost.”

Chanda Jones, a limited part-time custodian at BU, shared with the crowd her frustration with Brown and discussed how she and her 11-year-old daughter have faced many problems because of the current contract.

“I get no benefits whatsoever. I’ve been here for nine months, and I’ve gotten nothing,” she said. “President Brown made all this money, but forgot the little people that helped him get it. He is sitting up on his throne because of us. We are the ones that sent him there.”

Tim Hall, a lead custodian who has worked at BU for 36 years, said the committee that is working on the contract has not provided workers with respect.

“The committee really doesn’t want to bargain about anything,” he said. “What is upsetting me more than anything else is not their insult by offering me a bonus instead of a percentage, which is a prostitution of the system, it’s not that they don’t want to pay for insurance, it’s the fact that they’re not showing us respect. We are the backbone of this university. They need us, but they don’t respect us.”

Maintenance workers are not the only BU workers struggling with the contract. Adjunct professors, or part-time professors, do not receive the same pay as full-time professors.

Bayla Ostrach , an adjunct professor at BU, said wages are so low that many faculty members are eligible for Medicare and food stamps, and rely on the Massachusetts taxpayers to subsidize low wage work.

“If adjuncts are being paid less than minimum wage and qualifying for state benefits, and if maintenance workers and groundskeepers that make this place a safe, clean place to learn can’t get a good contract, where is that tuition money going?” she said.

After the protest, Maureen Sullivan, another adjunct professor, went directly to Brown’s office on the eighth floor, followed by two police officers, and requested to leave two small clementines for the president. Although she was not allowed inside the office, the officers took the fruit and left it on a desk outside his office.

“This is my dinner for tonight, and I want Mr. Brown to have it,” she said. “He has taken everything else from me, so I want him to have my dinner too. He seems to need everything I have, so I’m giving this to him.”

A number of BU students were protesting with and supporting the workers. Declan Bowman , a senior in the College of Engineering, said it was unfair that staff are being treated poorly, considering BU’s status as a prominent university.

“It’s jarring that I study at one of the nation’s top biomedical engineering programs, to advance health care in the United States. Meanwhile, our adjunct professors and part-time maintenance staff don’t have access to health care,” he said.

Tori Dutcher-Brown, a sophomore in CAS, said students have the ability to influence administrators and to help the workers.

“We as students have power here, to help stand with our workers. We pay tuition dollars. We have a large impact on the university,” she said. “As students, we have the power to stand up to what’s not right. We need to take action and fight back. We need to let the school know, especially President Brown, that we stand with the workers.”

2 Comments

  1. Those people deserve a good living wage and benefits .and what about those casual security assistants who have no union and only get 11.50 an hour with no benefits.

  2. Hello,

    This is John Bernardini whom is employed as a part-time Piano Technician at Boston University from 2002 to the present. I really appreciate the job that I do there as a piano technician and the people who I work with very much.

    But when it comes to skimpy pay and no benefits that’s where it all stops, it stops right there and when they say if you don’t like the job situation then you only hear “Then why don’t you leave and go elsewhere, or today is your last day, etc!!!!!) Well that may be true but that policy can only go so far only leaving us more so on our own with no such hope for us working people receiving a decent respect with a better future that we all deserve very dearly.

    I was the age of 36 when I’ve started and now I’m almost 50 years old and I still receive no respect and no benefits whatsoever which I am very displeased with today’s reality’s policies that does not provide any means of hope for a better future for us middle class individuals (MCIs) whatsoever. The rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer, the rich gets healthier, and the poor gets sicker, The rich gets more fiendish while the poor gets offended and the rich gets happier while the poor gets depressed.

    Basically what I’m trying to say that it’s about time for the big corporates, presidents, CEOs, etc (Yeah, those big whales who makes a tone of money in the six or seven figures of their regular pay, bonuses, profits, and many other benefits that us MCIs may never have heard of, yeah those guys Lol!!!!!) to start treating us little people with a much better degree of respect and appreciation since we come a long way hoping for a better life style that we all deserve as we struggle and getting older and sicker with huge worries of facing mandatory policies witch requiring us MCIs facing huge financial hardships and making us poor people facing responsibilities with the lousy money that we can never get to have and while we see many nice things and places that we can never get to have especially that we worked foreverly hard for and never reach a paradise living in this lousy and fiendish reality.

    Why are they doing this to us????? Why are they keeping things from us????? Why do they think they are so special???? Why, Why, Why, Why, Why are they taking decent money away!!!!! Why Why Why Why Why are they taking or keeping benefits from us people.

    Because they are such assholes thinking that they don’t ever have to face reality the way we foreverly having to, because they lie to us and get away with it, Because they think they are already in heaven while they conveniently forget who got them assholes there while we don’t get a Thank You from them. And I think it’s a biggest turn on for them to become more wealthy by way of hurting people who got them there while they use us while we suffer.

    They really need to think about this and take a really close look at this fiendish reality because I’m very sure that if these big corpoates, CEOs, presidents, etc suddenly become MCIs themselves then they would be beside themselves to never appreciate it whatsoever. They need to think about it more closely those Mother F–kers. Why shouldn’t we benefit as well for all the hard work we put in????? Why should we have to face mandatory expenses that we can never afford????? How many of us people work at these places that we can never afford to enjoy their services or their benefits????? That’s not right at all.

    This whole job and money crisis nauseates me with all this fiendish policies which gives us no hope for a better future.

    John B (MCI)