Members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) interrupted a faculty meeting at Bomberger Hall last Tuesday to confront president Brock Blomberg over the college’s continued relations with Olympus, a company contracted to provide cleaning services to Ursinus.
Offering Blomberg a symbolic choice between scissors or a broom, USAS supporters urged the president to cut ties with Olympus and to avoid sweeping the concerns of students and staff members under the proverbial rug.
While Blomberg thanked students for their concerns, he declined both the scissors and broom.
USAS is demanding that the college insource the cleaning staff with the retention of their union and the full benefits afforded to all other in house Ursinus employees.
After hearing the demands, President Blomberg thanked the members of USAS and promised to look into their concerns. He later said in response to the demands, “Currently, [the cleaning staff] are employed by Olympus, much like dining services is contracted through Sodexo. There are several factors involved in those discussions, so we will continue that dialogue so that USAS understands the implications of its request.”
Sam Wanta, a USAS member since the group was founded in the Fall of 2015, said that USAS has been petitioning the college to improve their treatment of the cleaning staff for almost two years. USAS takes issue with the fact that the cleaning staff at Ursinus are not hired by the school directly.
“We give Olympus a chunk of money so that Ursinus doesn’t have to deal with anything, and then Olympus negotiates with the union,” said Senior and vice president of USAS Zev Bliss.
“It’s less dramatic now . . . people have left Ursinus because they’re not satisfied with the working conditions…or treatment… But in the past, it was very dramatic,” Bliss continued.
In the past, USAS has staged other protests demanding that President Blomberg in source the cleaning staff. For one protest last year, the group posted flyers all over the walls surrounding the main staircase in Olin Hall.
While conditions have improved slightly, USAS believes this doesn’t erase the fact that workers have been mistreated in the past.
Staff have, in the past, allegedly taken money from their own wallets to provide students with what their company has not. In some residence halls, if there’s a store-bought soap dispenser, “that’s because workers have bought that [using] their own money,” alleged Wanta.
USAS believes that many of these issues could have been avoided if the current administration insourced the cleaning staff. Ursinus employees are offered a family healthcare plan while the cleaning staff is not. Bliss admitted, “We aren’t sure if they aren’t given an option or if it’s super unaffordable, but either way, they [allegedly] can’t access it.”
The responsibility, Wanta and Bliss agree, is on President Brock Blomberg. They believe that the school’s affiliation with Olympus is for the wrong reasons, and that Blomberg specifically should step in.
“[He’s] had…lots of time to think very carefully about this, and decide whether [his] budget is more important than [his] values,” said Bliss.
“And, well, here we are. This is representative of a larger problem USAS has with the administration as a whole. Decisions that he makes about the school don’t seem to take student input into account or at the very least, in very tokenizing and trivial ways,” Bliss continued.
A statement from the president contradicts the allegations that the administration has ignored USAS. President Blomberg said, “…members of the college’s administration have met numerous times with representatives from USAS over the past year. They’ve been productive meetings, and we’ve been able to address the vast majority of the questions raised by USAS.”
The administration’s concern, Blomberg insisted, is in the best interest of all involved. As far as permanently cutting ties with Olympus and insourcing the staff, it’s complicated.
“There are several factors involved in those discussions, so we will continue that dialogue so that USAS understands the implications of its request and whether it is in the best interest of not only the college, but also the workers themselves,” Blomberg’s statement read.
President Blomberg also reiterated that the administration wants what is best for the cleaning staff. He said, “The college’s administration and USAS share the same goal: to ensure the janitorial and cleaning services staff, as well as all those who are employed by Ursinus, are treated fairly and with respect. They are important members of our community and we value their contributions.”