Affirmative Alumni Engagement Vital in UAW Discussions

 Editor’s Note: This letter was previously posted on an online forum for Class of 1968 announcements. 

I support Oberlin College, including financially, as it wrestles with economic realities in the interest of its long-term survival. Our astute Board of Trustees — made up almost entirely of alumni — hired President Carmen Twillie Ambar to accomplish this daunting task. 

As a lifelong union member, I strongly support the College in finding the most humane, responsible, equitable, and socially-responsible results possible under the current circumstances. Positive responses to President Ambar’s forthrightness, transparency, and clarity — all of which I applaud — are more productive than threats of punitive measures against my alma mater. 

My support is far from uncritical. I have both been in a vortex of institutional change — I graduated with the Class of 1968 — that resulted in major improvements to the institution, and now feel a part of the widespread support within the institution, including from alumni, for the groundbreaking One Oberlin initiative.

As President Carmen Twillie Ambar stated clearly in her Feb. 18 communication to alumni and students, addressing the College’s unsustainable structural deficit already has affected faculty and administrative staff, as well as retirement and health benefits for all. Given that 63 percent of the College’s annual budget goes toward employee compensation, how could anyone be surprised that compensation for service sector employees — including dining and custodial services — is part of the mix? It is noteworthy — and apparently overlooked — that the College will potentially be negotiating both with the union and with potential outside vendors. 

A desirable result in all these negotiations is a living document that can evolve with the times. Others have given different suggestions wherein present workers don’t lose anything; current employees have the right to continue in their jobs at the same wages and benefits; the contract prohibits firing except for the same causes that would have gotten anyone fired by Oberlin; the conditions for any outside employers stipulate that they should employ a unionized workforce. 

I welcome others joining me in this affirmative approach.