Letter to the Editor

From Rick Jonsen

Housekeeping staff appreciation day had special meaning this year when Allison Cox and hundreds of other students decided to replicate an action that Shane Claiborne and the Eastern students of his era took: take over St. David’s campus housekeeping duties for a day so the housekeeping staff could take a paid day-off during the Thanksgiving break.

Other campus groups have recently expressed their love for the housekeeping staff in similarly practical ways. The CAS faculty took a Christmas gift collection last year that they then passed on to each member of the housekeeping staff at a Christmas party held at a faculty member’s home. And when the change in housekeeping vendors was announced last month, students and faculty sought to support the housekeeping staff with petitions, translating during meetings with Eastern administrators and GCA Services Group (the new housekeeping vendor), and writing letters of reference for use in the GCA employment application process.

These efforts to support our neighbors in the Eastern community are important and meaningful. They underscore the strength of relationships built among and across boundaries of role and status, a characteristic of healthy communities. Another characteristic of healthy workplace communities is justice in the context of organizational systems and procedures. This includes worker pay.

In “The Irresistible Revolution” Shane also describes action Eastern took to ensure that our housekeeping staff are paid a living wage. Regrettably, the recent recession and other factors conspired to drop housekeeping pay below the living wage standard. The good news is that Eastern administrators committed to bringing housekeeping base pay back up to the living wage standard in discussions earlier this year. While budget constraints prevent immediately addressing the situation, they did commit to addressing the gap over time. I also understand that the GCA positions will all be full time (40 hours/week), which will serve to further close the gap. Eastern’s recommitment to a living wage is an important act of workplace justice.

This good news, however, cannot mask the sorrow we feel over the transition that now faces many of our housekeeping staff neighbors. The news that the GCA positions will be full time is good news in terms of wages, but it also mean fewer positions; some of the current housekeeping staff will be left to find new employment. Building a longer lead time into the contract with GCA would have been helpful to those who will not transition to GCA employment. While the change in housekeeping vendors fell outside the 60-day required notification of the federal WARN Act, voluntarily building a 60-day notification provision into the Eastern/GCA contract would have provided those who will not be GCA employees more time to find new work and avoid unemployment.

The recently updated Eastern University strategic plan explicitly envisions Eastern as a community. These recent events involving our housekeeping neighbors and friends underscore the value and importance of workplace community. My prayer is that we use these events as a reminder of the same, and with that memory recommit daily to building a sustainable workplace community embodied not only in our relationships with each other, but in the procedures and processes that characterize contemporary organizational life.

Rick Jonsen teaches human resources management and others courses in the CAS business department. He is also a student in the Ph.D. Organizational Leadership program.

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