For those looking for examples of persistence paying off, take a glance at the members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality. After months of stalemate at the negotiating table, SOLE has come away with a victory concerning the treatment of employees at the Toledo branch of Morgan Linen Services and a potentially significant new tool for the prevention of such difficulties: the Purchasing Ethics and Policies Task Force.
In a contract with the University for years, Morgan had been doing laundry service for the Martha Cook Building, the Executive Residence of the Business School and the Law School’s Lawyer’s Club. The trouble with Morgan began in October, when workers at the Toledo division reached out to SOLE to inform them of their poor work environment. According to accounts by Morgan personnel, their low-paying jobs had required them to work in difficult conditions. In addition, the employees stated that Morgan had not provided sick pay or adequate raises to coincide with rising insurance costs. Furthermore, Morgan had clamped down on the demands of UNITE! (the workers’ union), preventing any chance for the betterment of their predicament. Also, employees involved in the union reported being harassed by management.
Without delay, SOLE got in contact with officials in hopes of pressuring the University to discontinue contracts with Morgan and force Morgan to take the rights of its personnel more seriously. After some positive headway, such as the creation of an ethical purchasing task force by University President Mary Sue Coleman, negotiations between SOLE and the administration came to a standstill in April, when Coleman agreed only not to renew any long-term contracts. This could have allowed the University and Morgan to continue their partnership through short-term agreements. Fortunately, as a result of the relentless demands by SOLE, the University has broken off all connections with Morgan. This, in turn, will hopefully force Morgan to create a healthier labor standards policy for its employees.
Looking back at the Morgan situation, universities across the nation must realize that the way they spend money has a major societal impact, and thus must spend ethically. If administrations continue to look the other way, searching for low-cost subcontracts instead of fit labor environments, then worker rights will continually be jeopardized. This is where the new task force comes in, and President Coleman must acknowledge the voice of the task force and do whatever is necessary to improve dire work settings – even if it means dealing with more costly businesses. The task force should not be used as a delay tactic.
Much depends on the task force. It is essential to develop a strict code for the University’s vendors, so they know what the community expects from them in order to prevent situations like what happened at Morgan. This code should be an evolution of the Worker Rights Consortium the University signed on to years ago, which ensures safety in working conditions for employees of collegiate apparel companies. It should also be ready not long after the task force is due to make its policy recommendations at the end of the coming fall term.
The task force is organizing two public forums regarding the University’s purchasing policies. The first meeting will take place Thursday, July 10 from 4-6 p.m. in the Kuenzel Room of the Michigan Union. The second has yet to be announced, but will occur during the fall term. Those planning to participate should contact Patrick Naswell by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at (734) 615-6744. Student participation is vital.