Temp Workers Need Student Support

Max Berclaz, Contributing Writer

Following the name and mission of last year’s Defending Oberlin Financial Accessibility protests, students are once again facing off against the College’s plans to make Oberlin a less economically just institution. While the majority of the movement has focused on combating the upcoming $2,500 raise in tuition and pushing for a tuition freeze, organizing has also focused on fighting anti-blackness, racism and the exploitation of workers at Oberlin. Here I want to specifically draw attention to the College’s treatment of temporary workers, and how a movement for economic justice must be in solidarity with workers’ struggles.

Essentially, temp workers have next to no rights at Oberlin College. There are no official handbooks, no codes of conduct and certainly no procedures for collective bargaining available to the workers to defend their interests. If the College wants to fire a temp worker, all they have to do is send a “Denial of Return” notice to the staffing agency, effectively banning the worker from ever returning to work at CDS. No reason needs to be provided for this, and no severance pay or unemployment benefits come with the firing. While an appeal process exists, workers often are not even told about this and the process is really little more than the worker asking management for their job back. Despite performing work no different than that of student or permanent workers, temporary workers are not even considered workers, but rather labeled by the College as “guests.”

What this does is make temp workers a disposable workforce, subject to the arbitrary decisions of those above them and impeded in organizing for their own interests. Because of how easily they could be “denied return,” workers are unable to speak out for fear of being fired. Even if they retain their jobs, they can still be discriminated against and denied rights granted to other workers. For example, two years ago the Director of Business Operations and Dining Services Michelle Gross decided that temp workers would no longer be allowed to eat on their shifts, though the same rules did not apply to student workers. Working with temp workers last December, the Student Labor Action Coalition started a petition against this and obtained more than a thousand signatures, winning temp workers the right to eat. Yet even now the workers are not allowed to eat on their breaks; instead they

have to get the food at the beginning of their shift, put it in a hot box and wait four hours until they clock out to be allowed to eat it. Temp workers at Oberlin are still denied rights that are readily available to students.

There are five staffing agencies that provide CDS with temp workers. Each one is paid $12 per hour for each worker, of which the worker only receives $8.10, or the minimum wage required by the State of Ohio. The overall system is managed by Bon Appétit, the same company that overcharges us on unwieldy meal plans. Bon Appétit is also a subsidiary of the largest food service corporation in the world, Compass Group, which has contracts in prisons, military bases and offshore oil rigs. To put it simply, we have here a company that takes advantage of students as a captive market, exploits workers and profits from imprisonment, war and environmental destruction.

Students must use their protected position to support temp workers in ending discriminatory policies and preventing unjust firings. Those of us who work in CDS should get to know our co-workers and find out what they want to see changed at this College. In turn, worker support is essential to the success of a student movement. It seems like year after year we fight the same battle, just trying to hold on to what we already have. Solidarity between students, workers and the town is essential to any attempt to actually win ground, and support for temp workers is a key aspect of that.