“Nobody supports the custodial staff of the University.”
“I cry everyday because I’m afraid to go back to work.”
“I don’t know how to stop the abuse..”
These sentiments from ABM workers on campus stop me dead in my tracks. I can only look around this University, at students busy studying and teachers busy teaching, and wonder how we let this go on so easily. That might be an overstatement, because I truly do understand how this happens. If anyone asked me my freshman year who my building’s ABM worker was I would have responded with an ignorant, “What the heck is ABM?” It didn’t matter to me at the time because it didn’t involve me. It was easy enough to walk past the men and women cleaning on campus from morning to night without ever uttering a single word to them because the harsh reality is that the ABM workers are used to doing their jobs unnoticed and overlooked and I was wrapped up in trivial things that I thought were so important at the time.
Students systematically fall into this trap and become wrapped up in their own lives full of friends, school work, internships, jobs, and clubs and subsequently forget to say “hi” or “good morning” to the people who make our campus such a lovely, clean place to exist.
My priorities abruptly changed last year when I overheard a stressed custodian ending a phone call nearly in tears. They had just been given a warning for some reason unknown to them and were in fear that they would soon be unemployed. It was an uncomfortable situation to jump into, knowing nothing about ABM as a company or workers’ rights for that matter, but I know of human compassion and empathy and couldn’t let this distress go unvalidated.
After this I went out of my way to get to know ABM employees and following conversation after conversation, I was struck by overarching themes of distrust and constant uncertainty. Custodians don’t trust their management and their management treats them as if they are incompetent, even as they are overloading them with more than a typical workload should allow. The custodians, in constant fear of being fired or issued a warning, begin to distrust one another. This distrust feeds off of itself, becoming stronger and more intolerable as it perpetuates an all-around oppressive atmosphere.
It should seem like common sense to Americans at this point, but everyone is entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This last point is especially important because of its ambiguity: what is happiness? Among other things, happiness is having enough food to eat, sleeping warm and comfortably, and going to work without fear. I want to challenge the administration at Fairfield University to look at all of its employees, those hired directly by the University and those contracted through outside companies, and understand the conditions in which they work and to be held accountable for those conditions. It’s cowardly and not at all in line with the morals touted by any institution of higher education to hide behind the fact that employees are contracted by outside companies and therefore outside of the University’s jurisdiction. That is straight up sneaky and dishonest.
Until the administration does this, it will be up to the students to show them that workers’ rights are important.
Students, I leave this here with you, a personal plea to care about the people around you who are all too easy to overlook. Say hello to campus employees. Introduce yourself. Ask how their day is going. Ask them what their favorite books are. See them as the amazing people they are and then I know you’ll have no problem acting against the blatant injustices that perpetuate their poor working conditions. At the end of the day, it all goes back to the golden rule: treat others as you would want them to treat you. Don’t sit idly by and allow people to work under conditions in which you wouldn’t want to find yourself in.