Maintenance staff: ‘This is our last straw’
This Saturday was filled with excitement for many students as they headed off to celebrate the annual Clam Jam. When they drove out of Fairfield’s main gate, they realized that it was also a monumental day for another campus group: the department of Facilities Management.
Students and Fairfield residents cheered and honked when they saw about 35 people at the main entrance rallying with signs saying, “Jesuit values?” and “Help my daddy.”
In an effort to fight for better pay and job security, the maintenance department, along with Local 30 International Union of Operating Engineers, has been conducting negotiations with the Fairfield administration.
“We’re not people any more, just numbers,” said Pat Bike. He has worked for 16 years at Fairfield and is one of the four members on the negotiating committee.
Though the University was willing to offer a one-year contract, the maintenance department refused to agree to such a short-term contract. The staff decided that they could let their voices be heard by rallying.
Tim Craig, representing the department of carpentry on the negotiating committee, explained that such a rally would not have occurred five years ago. “VPs used to come up and joke around with you, but we don’t even see them or know who they are. It’s totally different,” he said.
Associate Professor of Politics Dr. Jocelyn M. Boryczka is one of the faculty members who have been working closely with the maintenance department to help them get their message out. Boryczka is the president of the Fairfield University chapter of the Faculty Welfare Committee.
She explained, “Tell us why we are having cuts in our pay so we can move together as one Fairfield. That’s why we’re here today. We’re here to stand with all of those at the University who are looking for fairness and justice.”
The members of the maintenance department stressed that they love Fairfield and are disappointed that it has come to the point that they need to rally. “They don’t want to negotiate in good faith. We’ve written a letter to Mark Reed. We’ve written a letter to Fr. Von Arx and this is our last straw. We’re just trying to get out here and draw some publicity,” said Bike.
“We need your support,” said electrician John Minopoli. About 20 maintenance workers and their family members were present, along with a Local 30 representative, faculty and their families.
Craig’s wife and daughters were there to support his efforts. Craig explained the impact that his pay has had on his family. “We didn’t have money to put away for a college education. That was the deal to come here,” said Craig. Some staff members make 14 dollars an hour, making it difficult for many to pay for cost of living.
“We live in Fairfield County. I’ve been working a second job for eight years to support my family. I have not seen my kids grow up,” Craig said.
Craig’s 16-year-old daughter, Julia Rodriguez, proudly stood with her sign and explained why she decided to participate in the rally. She stated, “It’s important to me because it’s important to my dad … He’s not doing it for him; he’s doing it for other people, which is really inspiring to me. …If he loses the tuition exchange that kind of loses a ride for me to college.”
Boryczka represented the faculty, saying, “We are here to support the maintenance workers in the struggle for their first contract negotiated here as a union. The Fairfield welfare community stands behind them in all of their efforts because we are one Fairfield, and we are very interested in putting the fair back in Fairfield in terms of having workers, employees and faculty treated equally and justly.”
Dr. Anna Lawrence, assistant professor of history, said, “It makes sense to me that they should fight for a fair living wage and Fairfield County is not the easiest place to live.” Lawrence also brought her daughter to support the staff.
Ten-year-old Emma Bass-Lawrence held a sign in front of campus and explained, “My poster says ‘Put the Fair back in Fairfield.’ … [My mom] said they can’t really feed their families so I guess that’s not really fair. ”
Though students did not attend the rally, the maintenance department and their supporters expressed the importance of student involvement and understanding of labor issues.
“I think students should know that the overall impact of the way that the administration is engaging with faculty and the maintenance and professional staff at the University impacts the overall value of their education,” said Boryczka. “That all of us are here, year after year, before you guys get here and after you graduate and we’re deeply invested in the University.”
Both the maintenance department and the University are attempting to raise awareness of labor injustices by holding a May Day event. In honor of International Worker’s Day and the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the Faculty Welfare Committee will sponsor the event outside of the Barone Campus Center on May 1 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
The day will be based on the theme “We are one Fairfield.” According to Professor of mathematics Irene Mulvey: “This is about workers over all, on campus, around the country and around the world.”