The people who keep the campus functioning had a chance to air their grievances about labor issues at Fairfield in the Lower Level of the Barone Campus Center on Thursday, April 21.
A coalition of the Faculty Welfare Committee, UNITE HERE Local 217, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30, called Fairfield University Workers United, along with student groups and others put the event together. The forum was the inaugural event of the coalition, which was formed this semester.
The forum was dedicated in memory of Professor Gisela Gil-Egui, who was killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver last December. Gil-Egui was active in resolving labor issues concerning Sodexo workers.
The forum was organized and emceed by Associate Professor of Politics and Vice President of the Faculty Welfare Committee, the Fairfield chapter of the American Association of University Professors, Jocelyn Boryczka.
Many different perspectives were shared at the event, including those of Sodexo workers, janitors, FWC professors and student workers.
Those who spoke stressed the importance of non-wage benefits and principles.
Visiting Assistant Professor of History Elizabeth Hohl spoke on her experience as a part-time professor, stating that there are 355 professors on campus who are considered part-time employees. These professors have no security, no benefits and no possibility of promotion, according to Hohl, who has worked at the University for 32 years and is still considered a visiting professor.
For these professors, according to Hohl, a cancelled class could mean economic disaster.
Some of those present believed that improved working conditions at Fairfield are imminent.
Professor of Mathematics Irene Mulvey, who has worked at Fairfield for 30 years and is treasurer of the Faculty Welfare Committee, said that she “feel[s] like this coalition can be instrumental in improving working conditions.”
However, Site Manager of the Athletic Department Zachary Quinones ‘18 was less optimistic about the future of conditions at Fairfield. “No one who could really institutionalize change was here,” said Quinones. “It takes a long time for things to change around here, so I wouldn’t say anything in the near future is plausible or something that will happen.”
Mulvey as well as Andres Puerta, a representative from the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 30 believed that the existence of the coalition itself was a step in the right direction.
“I thought this was a very powerful event,” said Puerta. “All the workers on campus that are unionized are now speaking together, building a coalition, which ultimately means that they are going to defend each other instead of being separate.”
Puerta was heartened by the presence of students at the forum.
“I think days like today prove that there are committed organizers on campus, that students care about working conditions on campus and that there is this coalition that is going to defend each other and make sure that the standards at the University are in line with the values of the University.”
One of the issues mentioned at the forum was health insurance, which used to be free, but has cost staff and faculty members more and more each year.
Even though the cost of health insurance is going down, the administration wants more cuts next year.
However, the administration views the issue differently.
“We want Fairfield University to be affordable for the average family,” said Michael Trafecante MBA ’01, who is the Vice President for Finance and Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer. “Maintaining our commitment to offering fair wages and benefits to our employees continues to be important and we have achieved that throughout our history.”
However, according to Trafecante, there must be a balance to keep the cost of attendance, approximately $60,000 annually, within reach of the average student.
As discussed at the forum, President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J. has refused to meet with the workers of the University, despite workers making many efforts to meet with him.
Mulvey added, “I don’t understand a president who doesn’t want to meet with his workers. I don’t understand a president who doesn’t want to hear from his faculty.”
Chef Johnny Colon Sr., who has worked for Sodexo for 37 years, was one of the pioneers who started the labor union when he began working at Fairfield.
“I think the administration should be willing to sit down with the workers and hear their concerns and address them,” said Colon. “Because postponing it only makes things worse. Good or bad, they should be willing to hear their voices, especially since this is coming from a Jesuit community.”