Tomorrow Smith College administrators will continue their negotiations with dining room and housekeeping staff. The group Support Smith Women Workers Now (SSWWN) does a great job keeping us all updated on what’s happening on campus and even have a template for emails and letters you can send to Smith Administration. You can find their Facebook page here.

Here’s a rundown of what’s happening from SSWWN:

Last week several faculty members attended the negotiation meeting. This is their report:

“Women’s Work Counts” read each of the six framed posters that hang on the wall in the conference room, facing Local 211’s negotiation team. Evidently, that idea doesn’t seem to count for very much.

The members of Local 211 (housekeepers and dining room staff, 75% of whom are women) include some of the lowest paid employees at the College, and yet the Administration is currently offering no raise for next year, just a $250 one-time “bonus”, even though other College employees can expect raises of at least 2%. For the second year of the proposed contract, the Administration is offering a raise of just 1.25%, even though they indicated that the financial picture for this year is brighter. On top of this, the College wants to significantly reduce wages for all new dining and housekeeping staff and refuses to guarantee no lay-offs during the next three years (the term of the contract).

This is not fair. These employees realize that the College has had to address a serious financial crisis. Indeed, the cost of wages for dining services last year was less than the year before due to continued lay offs and restructuring. Furthermore, increase in the costs for insurance also has effectively reduced take-home pay. Dining services and housekeeping staff have made sacrifices. Over time, their staff has been reduced by half. This means, for example, that significantly less dining staff are preparing and serving the same number of meals as before the jobs were eliminated. In one recent restructuring, almost 40% of dining staff were demoted to lower paying jobs due to the elimination of higher paying positions.

Consider, for example, the situation of a Dining Room Coordinator at Smith. She makes about $16 per hour for her nine month work schedule (dining and housekeeping positions are only guaranteed for nine months per year). Since she has to pay over a thousand dollars a month for her family’s health insurance, her take-home pay comes to about $200.00 a week. The Administration doesn’t see this as a problem, claiming that comparable employers in the Valley pay their workers the same or even less (though they have not presented evidence of this). But whatever other employers pay, a $200 per week paycheck is not a wage that anyone can live on very well. Plus, those other employers don’t claim a commitment to make “women’s work count” the way Smith does, and should.

Remember, as the lowest paid employees, dining and housekeeping staff are already disadvantaged. For many of these workers, living paycheck to paycheck is a way of life. The cost to the College of a two percent increase for dining and housekeeping workers would be $38 per year per student for the 2011-1012 academic year.

The support of students, alumnae, faculty, community, and labor organizations is critical if Smith housekeeping and dining staff are to receive a fair contract. We urge you to continue to email and call Carol Christ, Ruth Constantine, Larry Hunt, and the Board of Trustees to express your support for Local 211.

The next negotiation meeting is Tuesday, June 22, thus it is vitally important that the college hear from you again, even if you have written/called already, before next Tuesday. Faculty and alums will continue to attend the meetings until a resolution is achieved and report back.

Thank you for your support!

As a group dedicated to class issues, we strongly support the workers at Smith. Smith prides itself of being an equitable and progressive institution, advocating for women’s financial independence. However, their reluctance to give Smith dining and housekeeping staff a respectable wage and benefits speaks otherwise as to the College’s values. So spread the word about this– post events to your Facebook wall, and of course call in, email, and send letters to let the administration know that you’re watching the issue.