A Professor Speaks Out

Photo of Professor Mary Gray
Professor Mary Gray American University

A devoted cadre cleans AU and feeds its students, faculty and staff. But these employees do not have the same benefits as others who work on campus.  As an educational institution AU could offer a benefit proven effective in promoting diversity and inclusion for the university and career enhancement for the employees: free tuition for AU courses for these “outsourced” employees the same as for those faculty and staff directly employed by AU.

Service workers have also suffered from a lack of retirement benefits at AU.Many of the outsourced employees would like to retire from their physically demanding labor.  But for many years they, unlike AU’s directly employed workers, had no pension benefit payment set aside for them – in some case for as much as 19 years from 1981 to 2001.  As a result there’s little – very little – money in their pension fund on which to retire.  And of course, Social Security benefits are minimal since much of their work was at close to minimum wage.  AU should chip in to help, for example, Leila Williams– who has worked here for 51 years.

Professor Mary Gray
Department of Math and Statistics
College of Arts and Sciences
Office: 202-885-3171

Contents

Some of the Workers Who Can’t Retire

Marriott Eliminates Pensions for Food Service Workers and American University Stays Silent

Is American University a Moral Failure?

How to Solve the Retirement Crisis with No Cost to Students

What Can You Do Today?

Actions at Other Schools: The Franklin and Marshall Model

American University Students and Service Workers

The Great Cover Up, Part I: AU’s Board of Trustees Lost $91 Million to a Bank and Didn’t Tell Anyone

The Great Cover Up, Part II: American University Cuts Back on the Student Newspaper, Now It Publishes in Print Only Twice a Semester

A Survey of Educational Benefits at Universities in the District of Columbia

Is American University a Moral Failure?

  1. Administrators broke promises about pensions made to service workers. AU promised workers who started in the 1970s pensions at the end of their years of work. Then AU brought vendors such as Marriott to campus who did not provide any pension payments for 18 years from 1981 to 2000. See the the workers’ contract with Marriott at the time. Note that pensions are not mentioned. Workers had the choice of accepting the contract or losing their jobs. Now 16 workers over 65 with more than 35 years of service can’t retire. President Sylvia Burwell refuses to meet with workers or faculty about this problem. What moral leadership!!

  2. Administrators exclude Black and Latino service workers from free classes on campus while publicizing how “progressive” and “inclusive” the university is. Every year 1700 administrative staff–mostly white–and 915 full time faculty, mostly white–can complete their law degrees, MBAs, and take other graduate and undergraduate classes for free. Service workers can’t even take undergraduate classes. Service workers–many of whom are DC residents–are locked out of education on campus while the university pays no DC real estate tax on a campus valued at hundreds of millions. What respect for the citizens of D.C. who pay real estate taxes. Adding one or two service workers to a class would cost the University nothing, but university administrators simply don’t care about giving people opportunity.

  3. Service workers on campus receive pension contributions at a rate one-third less than administrative staff. Every month the administrative staff–mostly white–receive 10% of their monthly salaries in their 403b pension accounts. This contribution is free from the University and is a very generous deal. These 403bs are just like 401ks in the private sector. Service workers receive $1.20 per hour worked, or around 6% a month, and they don’t work during the winter break or doing the summer so the actual percentage is lower. (See the previous contract at https://www.unitehere23.org/contracts/ The new contract is not yet online.)

    An AU president once said, “If they wanted larger pensions, they could just bargain for them.” Really? Is it realistic for low wage workers barely scraping by to cut back on current wages to fund their pensions? If AU was a moral university, it would see that all vendors on campus had to match the 10% contribution, it gives faculty and administrators. Franklin and Marshall College gives its cleaners the exact same benefit package provided to faculty and administrators so it can be done. See https://www.fandm.edu/teamclean

  4. Administrators cover up problems with labor practices on campus. AU web sites do not contain any information about the lives of the 250 or more service workers on campus. This is so convenient for AU administrators. When new outrages occur, such as depriving all the workers in the campus Starbucks of heavily discounted college, no one knows. Yes, that is the case. If the employees of the Starbucks on campus worked for Starbucks, they could take online classes at Arizona State University at a 42% discount paid for by Starbucks . Adding in a Pell grant, college would get close to free. But the workers in Starbucks now work for Chartwell, the new university food vendor. Before Chartwell, they worked for Aramark. Dozens of people have been deprived of college through the usual AU silence. Should the workers in the campus Starbucks be able to choose between Chartwell’s benefits and what Starbucks offers?

What Can You Do Today?

Ask your professors to discuss the issues in the post about the moral failure of American University. For years the people suffering the most from AU’s labor practices have been African-American and Latino. This is racism. This is classism. These policies are not acceptable.

What do faculty suggest? Please ask them before class, during class, and after class. How does AU become a community of inclusion? What pressures will persuade AU to include rather than exclude Black and Latino service workers. When will the service workers receive 10% monthly retirement contribution administrators and faculty receive rather than the 6% food service workers receive now? And when will service workers receive the same free tuition for classes that administrators and faculty receive now?

The Franklin and Marshall Model

If university administrators decide to love and respect others, they might look at how Franklin and Marshall College has decided to treat its cleaners. They are now equal to administrators and faculty in terms of all benefits including free college degrees which could transform families for generations. And F and M will pay tuition at a community college for workers or children of workers without the skills to start at Franklin and Marshall. See https://www.fandm.edu/teamclean .

DC Universities Continue to Exclude Service Workers from Classes. GU, GWU, Howard and UDC, You Should Be Ashamed. A Survey of Educational Benefits for Service Workers in the District of Columbia

Educational Opportunities for Service Workers in the District of Columbia

A slightly longer version of this survey was included in the American Friends Service Committee report on Human Rights in 2017. See pages 19-22 at https://www.afsc.org/sites/default/files/documents/HR%20City%20Report_2017_FINAL.pdf

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