Jason Jensen and Elliot Martin
On Jan. 6, 2015, eleven Eastern University housekeeping workers were offered a choice: bring in valid identification within three days, or don’t return to work. Since they could not fulfill the former, they were forced to choose the latter.
The two-month long process which would ultimately end in their resignation began on Nov. 4, when EU faculty and staff were informed that the university would be ending its contract with its long-time, outsourced housekeeping provider, Arthur Jackson. The news signaled to the housekeeping staff that their jobs were at risk of being terminated.
Students responded by issuing three petitions to the new contractor, GCA Educational Services, and interpreting during the staff’s interview process. Christina Hererra, who worked in Doane, remembers that the interviewers told them, “We are going to check your documents and give you a response in December.” Anxiety kept many of the staff from eating and sleeping.
Finally, on Dec. 4, GCA services notified the staff which employees would remain to work at Eastern. Unfortunately, four of the original 22 housekeeping workers would not return, now without a position at GCA or Arthur Jackson. One of the four promised to disclose the legal status of the remaining employees.
In spite of the threats, Hererra and the rest of the housekeeping staff began their new chapter. A better work agreement sweetened the deal, but Hererra recounts that they were simply happy to be back at Eastern, a place they love so much. Beginning Dec. 17, they worked diligently until receiving tragic news.
Three weeks after the change, GCA notified 11 of the 18 workers that there were “incomformities” with their documents. They could either submit valid ID, or cease working with GCA Services. When they pressed GCA for an explanation, a representative said the workers were hired “in good faith,” and the documents were not run before “because of the holiday season”.
Douglas Moreno, Director of Environmental Services at Eastern and representative of GCA casts doubt on that explanation. Concerning the feasibility of hiring someone before a background check, he replies “we cannot do it…we don’t want to risk the chance of bringing someone in and then saying ‘You cannot work.’” Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to eleven of Eastern’s housekeeping staff.
One month after their resignation, only two have found employment. While they still hold dear everyone at Eastern, Hererra feels indignant. When asked what Eastern could do, Hererra notes that the issue is more than just a paycheck. She says, “it is unjust.”
In November, notable Eastern graduate Shane Claiborne wrote this concerning the EU housekeeping situation: “I am proud of how Eastern University continues to think outside the boxes, categories, and labels to try and build authentic community. But community is not easy–it takes intention, time, imagination, and vulnerability…Justice isn’t cheap…But I heard someone say, ‘Love casts out fear.’ And I know that it is true–when we love people well, we cast out the demons of fear, insecurity, loneliness and shame. It’s easier to live without fear when we know that we are loved.”
Like Hererra, many in the EU community are concerned: why did the housekeeping contractor change in the first place; could more have been done to prepare them for the transition; and why were the employees rehired then let go so quickly?
Hererra reflects, “We were told to look around to people we know at Eastern, to see if anyone would offer us work in a house or anything like that. Nobody called us from Eastern. Nobody… In the appreciation chapel, they kept praying, ‘Jesus, make me an instrument of your peace.’ Do we only pray this to Jesus or do we actually do it?”