“Sometimes we get treated like a second-class citizen. I’ll give you an example. The university has a daycare program where they pay reimbursement for daycare. But they don’t pay the union employees that….So when you have a baby and need some daycare, they say, oh no, only those people can have that.”
These are the words of Ray Trinque, who has worked in the kitchen of Brown University’s main dining hall as a cook for 15 years. Trinque’s words point to a dissonance in the University “community” that the administration so often references without acknowledging the inequality in who is shown to be recognized as worthy of benefits so integral to one’s personal and community life.
It is clear, given not only the example of disparity in university-provided daycare but also in racialized and gendered implications of BDS workers’ situation, that Dining Service workers and other union employees of the University are considered “less-than,” on the periphery of the campus “community.”
Brown Dining Service workers are mostly people of color, and they are serving — quite literally — an institution that is predominantly white. This relationship reproduces and perpetuates a historical and ongoing reality in which women of color caring for white people’s kids are denied both the time to care for their own children and the wages that could buy adequate daycare.
Daycare is just one of many issues that Brown Dining Service workers will address in upcoming negotiations with the University for a new union contract. Among these issues are living wage, health benefits, and an end to understaffing. Of course, all of these issues are strongly connected and together they make up a workplace that is either one of dignity and respect or of exploitation and injustice. From Trinque’s words and from the words of other BDS workers, the current atmosphere is more of the latter.
That’s why workers are mobilizing in their union and reaching out to students to join them in their fight for a contract that respects and honors their work. BDS workers deserve a fair contract with a living wage, good health benefits, and an end to understaffing.
Workers joined with Student Labor Alliance members last Friday at the start of Family Weekend in order to petition and mobilize members of the Brown community for their support. We chose to flyer and petition outside of the hall where President Christina Paxson gave her welcoming address. We knew that students and family would receive one version of what Brown is from Paxson’s speech, but that the Dining Service Workers who prepared the food for all the festivities that weekend had a very different understanding of what Brown is – as a workplace. They will not let the powers that be in University Hall erase their voices and their lived experiences, and students know that Brown works because Dining Service workers do.
The time is now: you can join workers in their fight to demand respect from Brown University through a fair contract. You can build student power in solidarity with workers, and together we can transform our campus to show that another world is possible.
You can contact the Student Labor Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign the petition here.
By Stoni Tomson, Contributor
Featured Image via Karen McAninch