Volume , Number 0
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Criminalizing the Charitable
Jenna e. Ziman
I Dreamed I Was In â€¦
Welfare Rights Activism
John potash and laurel Carpenter
Rural Prison as Colonial Master
New Party Report: Making Work â€¦
Human Rights Watch World Report â€¦
Haiti: The Roof Is Leaking
Word Tricks & Propaganda
Liggett Narcs Joe Camel
Cleaning up the Hamptons
Mobuto Was Chaos
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Cleaning up the Hamptons
On April 16, over 100 people gathered to support the Coalition for Justice (CFJ), a group formed by Southampton College (SC) custodians who were recently "contracted out" to a private management company. The coalition is demanding that College administrators cancel the contract and restore custodians as college employees.
Over two months ago, the SC administration hired the Laro Management Company to "take over" its union contract with custodians. The workers were given one day notice of the change and were forced to sign applications for jobs they already thought they had. A coalition of students, faculty, staff, and community members has organized to protest both the SC administrations arrogance and Laros penchant for union-busting practices. For the time being, however, custodians wear Laro uniforms and name tags, have lost seniority, tuition remission, and other benefits; have been warned not to fraternize with students or other campus employees, and, according to George Harney (a janitor at SC for 28 years), feel "like dogs who have been kicked out to the sidewalks."
In typical bureaucratic "suitspeak," the SC provost claims that the decision was "budget neutral"the school wont save any money; it just wants to get "someone who will drive you [the custodians] harder." Aside from an obvious caveat, that getting more work for the same money is not budget neutral, the real financial savings will come when the current union contract is up in October 1998. At that point, either Laro will force concessions based on their extremely low profit margin (which they willingly accepted only with the understanding that there would be money made eventually) or the company will try to bust the union. If the college decides to cancel the contract at that time, they will have no obligation to maintain the union as custodians will officially be Laro employees. In either case, the college will make money and the custodians will lose out.
Custodians also argue that the action has racial overtones. After all, of 17 custodians, 12 are people of color (mostly African American or Native American) or recent immigrantsthe only campus unit comprised predominantly of minorities. No other union or worker from the SC Physical Plant staff was "sold" or fired and, while the college admits that the problem was bad management, the managers have all retained their positions with no reduction in salary or status. In fact, the decision comes in the midst of union pressure from the custodians to create a promotional pipeline to other levels of employment in the Physical Plant department. In 30 years, only two custodians have ever been promoted in the department and not one of them was a person of color. There have only been two people of color hired for positions above custodian. As Bob Zellner, well-known civil rights activist and local resident said at the April rally, "The college reminds of Southern Plantation."
"The Hamptons" are comprised of a dozen or so towns and villages at the eastern end of Long Island and are world renowned as a vacation place for the rich and famous of New York City. For years, the citys paparazzi have escaped the heat and grime of urban summers to relax in their multi-million dollar homes on the ocean beaches of the south shore of Long Island. However, as New York City becomes an increasingly difficult place to live year-round (poverty, fear of crime, urban blight, etc.), more and more people have made the Hamptons a year round residence. Helped by the advent of "techno-commuting" innovations, there is a housing boom for a maturing yuppie population that would like to raise their new families in a "cleaner" environment.
The local African American and Native American populations have generally served in the lower echelons of the service sector employment providing domestic help, public and private maintenance work, and "backroom" leisure industry labor as dishwashers, launderers, etc. The growing migrant population of Latino workers has filled in niches as landscape and nursery workers at large estates and local vineyards, as well as the lowest paid service sector employees in retail sales work at department and food store chains like K-Mart and King Kullen. The burgeoning need for a low-wage pool of service workers has kept wages from falling too quickly as the number of available workers remains low. Yet, management companies like Laro that can bring in hundreds of unemployed workers (victims of everything from deindustrialization to welfare reform) from "up-island" in Western Suffolk and Nassau counties promise to change these economic dynamics. Thus, custodians are trying to impress upon the working people of the Hamptons that their local struggle may be a bellwether for future regional fights as the few decent paying service sector jobs that remain may be in jeopardy if people dont stand up now to the forces of greed and exploitation.
The Coalition for Justice has appeared before the Southampton Anti-Bias Task Force which has decided to investigate the issue. The coalition will also be asking the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission to look at the situation. In the meantime, CFJ continues a long tradition of grassroots community and workplace activism by applying direct pressure on the Administration to address their concerns. The coalition has also become a site where class and racial barriers are talked about openly, not as asides to the main discussions, but as central to the organizing and building of a coalition. The April demonstration brought in dozens of new members who are starting a letter-writing campaign to students parents and a direct action and educational campaign to spread information at all campus events. As one faculty member explained, "the college has a mission statement that calls on itself to build a caring and compassionate community." This decision [to contract out custodians] is a cold and calculated one, not caring and compassionate. "To build a community we must join together to fight such decisions."
Corey Dolgon is assistant professor of American Studies at Long Island University.