Rally for labor assembles on Women’s Day
Addressing a crowd of students — many of whom wore red for the occasion — Madeline Bisgyer ’20 spoke on Wednesday about the significance of International Women’s Day to the University community, especially regarding labor standards for women employees on campus.
Between testimonials from community members and chants led by fellow Brandeis Labor Coalition organizer Phoebe Dolan ’20, Bisgyer emphasized the important role women play in on-campus labor.
“Though Brandeis creates its social justice image and we want to recruit new students and donors, that ideal isn’t always practiced with the workers who come here day in and day out to make Brandeis run how it runs every day,” Bisgyer said.
Anna Henkin, a Biochemistry graduate student who works in a lab on campus, spoke about the difficulties she has faced as both a student and a University employee. Often, Henkin said, she and her colleagues must deal with low wages, poor treatment and harassment from colleagues.
“What it really boils down to is that our work is not valued by the school,” she said. “They show that in how little they invest in how much our workplace is welcoming to us, in how much we get compensated, in how much we get respected when there’s a problem and we need to take it somewhere.”
Henkin recalled one instance where she asked a professor for feedback in the middle of the semester, “and he told me we were not in nursery school anymore. Man, I want to be an active part of shaping the education that will build up my professional development. I am not asking for a goddamn juice box,” she said.
Similarly, faculty roles on campus can provide little support and stability, Prof. Michelle Mann (ENG), an adjunct faculty member, told the crowd. Across gender lines, the number of open positions does not meet the number of candidates looking for employment.
Mann, who recently graduated after eight years of study, explained that she has been unable to find a full-time, stable job in academics, calling for labor action. “There quite simply aren’t enough jobs for us,” she said. “I’m a 31-year-old woman. I want to have a family, and I am so far away from being able to buy a house, or even think about providing for children, that this all seems like an impossible dream. Many adjunct and contingent faculty are living on the poverty line, with almost no job security [and] no opportunities to advance their scholarship or their careers.”
Reflecting on the difference unionization has made in their working conditions, dining services employees Michelle Lynn and Lucia Hsiung — both members of UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents food service employees at the University — addressed the crowd.
“We are very lucky, because we have a union,” said Hsiung, who has worked at the University for 16 years. “We are so lucky.”
Lynn, who has been with the University for 19 years, spoke about how being in a union helped her fellow Einstein Bros. Bagels employees raise their hours back to 40 a week after they were cut to 37.5 in the fall.
However, the most important thing that the union has done, Hsiung said, “is support us.”