The Oberlin Review

College’s Final UAW Offer Contradicted Union’s Purpose

James Monroe Professor of Politics Chris Howell

July 30, 2020

Editor’s Note: This statement was originally sent in an email from James Monroe Professor of Politics Chris Howell to faculty on July 3, before it was posted on the Oberlin Beyond Austerity’s Facebook page on July 6. Trustee Charles S. Birenbaum, OC ’79, wrote a response to this letter which can be read here. Read more of the Review’s coverage of the plan to outsource UAW employees here.    Colleagues, In a book that I assign in one of my labor classes, Thomas Geoghagen, a Chicago-based labor lawyer, argues that trade unions and collective bargaining are more alien to most Americans than Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies. Unions operate by seemingly arcane rules, are heavily regulated by law, priv...

Howell Draws Improper Conclusion in UAW Statement

Trustee Charles S. Birenbaum, OC ’79

July 30, 2020

Editor’s Note: A longer version of this analysis appeared on the Alumni Facebook page on July 9 in response to James Monroe Professor of Politics Chris Howell’s statement. Read more of the Review’s coverage of UAW outsourcing here.    When I reviewed a commentary from James Monroe Professor of Politics Chris Howell on Oberlin College’s collective bargaining with United Auto Workers-represented dining and custodial employees, I admired how the intellectual curtain could be drawn over the complex area of labor-management relations to fuzz the realities. He conflates subcontracting and outsourcing with being anti-union with no evidence of union animus, and he holds the parties to a view of collecti...

College Outsources Custodial and Dining, UAW Charges College with Negotiating in Bad Faith

College Outsources Custodial and Dining, UAW Charges College with Negotiating in Bad Faith

July 24, 2020

After outsourcing 108 dining and custodial positions, the College and the United Auto Workers union will begin effects bargaining to negotiate post-employment terms. Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board will investigate the UAW’s July 3 charge alleging that the College negotiated the outsource in bad faith. On June 22, the College decided to outsource dining positions to AVI Fresh and gave the UAW a final proposal for custodial workers. A week later, UAW leadership opted against brin...

UAW Leadership Calls Outsourcing Plan Inconsistent with College’s Racial Justice Values

UAW 2192 Leadership Team

June 12, 2020

To Oberlin College, Historically, the United Auto Workers union has played an important role in pioneering civil rights and freedoms in and out of the workplace. The UAW has walked hand in hand with civil rights leaders and the civil rights movement — from helping fund the Montgomery bus boycott and the march from Selma to Montgomery to providing an office at the Solidarity House for Martin Luther King Jr., where he penned his “I Have a Dream” speech. The UAW was also there to post bail for Dr. King’s release in 1963 from a Birmingham City Jail. That is what the UAW stands for.  In a recent email from President Ambar where she spoke from the heart about the black community, she mentioned that “Oberlin ...

Incoming Students Voice Support for UAW

May 28, 2020

Dear President Ambar,  Oberlin Admissions chose an incoming class that cares about the world, and many of us committed out of a belief that the College felt the same way. Now, we’re not so sure. When we learned of Oberlin’s plans to lay off 108 unionized workers and replace them with an outside contractor, we were forced to question whether or not Oberlin is truly the school that was marketed to us. Oberlin claims the motto, “Learning and Labor,” but does it practice it? We have yet to be on campus, but we know that both learning and labor are equal parts of the ecosystem that makes Oberlin such a special community. We know that one cannot exist without the other.  “Think one person can change the world...

Tensions Between College, UAW Not New

Nathan Carpenter and Rachel Marcus

March 17, 2020

The current campus controversy around the proposal to outsource campus and dining services is not the first time that significant tensions have erupted between the College administration and members of Oberlin’s chapter of the United Automobile Workers union. Notably, in 1995, UAW members said they would strike if they were unable to reach agreeable contract terms with the College by March 31. Ultimately, a deal was reached an hour before the deadline and a strike was avoided. “The College recognizes the right of an individual to strike,” wrote Alan Moran, then-director of communications, in a March 30 memo to the Oberlin community. “The union has the right under the law to publicize the strike by picketi...

Students, staff, and community members rally at Wilder last week in support of union jobs at Oberlin.

Students Discuss UAW Concerns with Trustees

March 13, 2020

Student activists met with members of the Board of Trustees last week to denounce the College’s announcement that they are considering outsourcing up to 108 United Auto Worker jobs. In the meeting, students expressed their concerns and presented petitions that had been signed by students, alumni, and the broader Oberlin community. Elsa Schlensker, College fourth-year and chair of the Student Labor Action Coalition, was one of the students who presented. “The overall message that students h...

OCOPE Resolution in Support of UAW

Julie Weir, President, OCOPE Reference & Academic Commons Assistant

March 13, 2020

We, the members of Oberlin College Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 502, stand in solidarity with our United Automobile Workers union brothers and sisters, and we wholeheartedly support them in their fight to preserve their jobs and the dignity of labor at Oberlin College. We strongly condemn the administration’s plan to lay off unionized custodial and food service workers and to replace them with outsourced labor, and we oppose any union-busting techniques. Furthermore, we are convinced that Oberlin’s future is best secured when the College treats all of its workers like the valuable members of the campus community they are — rather than as expendable units of labor.  ...

Oberlin Has Transparency Problems

Les Leopold, OC ’69

March 13, 2020

Oberlin College’s administration claims that contracting out 108 union dining and maintenance jobs will save over $2 million a year. But where is the evidence for this claim? Good governance requires full transparency so that all the stakeholders impacted have the information needed to evaluate such dire actions as well as the overall financial health of the College. That is far from the case here. Here’s what we have NOT seen to date:  1) The proposed non-union sub-contracts: How much do they cost, and with whom? How long do they last? How are quality control and student safety issues handled along the way? What are the quality, performance, and labor relations history of the contractors? 2) Administra...

Students, faculty, alumni, and United Automobile Workers members gathered to protest the College’s Feb. 18 announcement that it is “formally considering” outsourcing union labor.

Pressure Mounts Against Outsourcing Proposal; Senator Sherrod Brown Voices Support of UAW

March 6, 2020

Campus controversy continues to swirl around President Carmen Twillie Ambar’s Feb. 18 announcement that the College is “formally considering” outsourcing dining and custodial services, a proposal that could impact jobs currently held by 108 members of the United Automobile Workers union. While students and alumni have made their dissatisfaction with the proposal known, regional politicians and media have also begun to take notice — most notably Senator Sherrod Brown (D–OH), who circulated ...

Student Senate On Supporting UAW

Henry Hicks and Austin Ward

March 6, 2020

 This article is part of the Review’s Student Senate column. In an effort to increase communication and transparency, Student Senators will provide personal perspectives on recent events on campus and in the community. This statement was originally released in an email to the entirety of the student body in Student Senate’s weekly newsletter. Due to Oberlin College’s financial deficit, President Carmen Twillie Ambar and administrative staff have decided to formally consider contracting with outside vendors instead of continuing their contract with the United Automobile Workers union. This could lead to a total of 108 full-time workers losing their UAW jobs: 52 full-time dining employees and 56 full-time cus...

Oberlin Must Be Sure to Take Care of Neighbors, Workers

Booker C. Peek, Professor Emeritus of Africana Studies

March 6, 2020

 Most of us agree that Oberlin College must pay all its workers a living wage. But perhaps not all support this view. There is no universally agreed-upon definition for what amount of dollars represents a “living wage” — a sum for one person or a family of four, for those living in the most expensive area of the country or the least expensive?  Let’s allow that the term lacks precision, but is a concept that must cover what we all think of as basic needs — food, housing, clothing, health insurance, etc. — with some notion of a barrier still, but hardly impossible to overcome. It is urgent for us to impress upon the College a sense of oneness as humans, caring and supporting each other in life’s jo...

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