Hey Ricoh, Don’t Fire Mailroom Workers At Brown University

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Hey Ricoh, Don’t Fire Mailroom Workers At Brown University

 user admin 2014-11-06 at 10:55:34 am Views: 2199
  • #41413

    Hey Ricoh,  Don’t Fire Mailroom Workers At Brown University
     Student Labor Alliance: Don’t fire mailroom workers (again)
    By Student Labor Alliance

    This summer, in a stunning display of putting profit over people, the University decided to outsource Mail Services to the multinational corporation Ricoh USA. On June 19, a few hours after mailroom workers received their would-be annual raises, Beth Gentry, assistant vice president of business and financial services, called the workers back into her office to tell them they would lose their jobs at Brown July 31, when the new company would take over. In the meantime, workers were expected to train their replacements from Ricoh.

    Three of the nine mailroom workers who lost their jobs at had worked here for over 20 years, with another four logging over 10 years, workers said. They were experts in how the mailroom functioned. They had developed friendly relationships with students and staff members, often going way beyond the job description to help students with unwieldy packages.

    But at the end of the day, they depended on those jobs for their families, for their health care, for stability in their own communities beyond Brown. After all, as the largest employer in the city of Providence, Brown can improve its impact on the city simply by providing stable jobs with good wages and benefits, and by not treating workers as if they are disposable.

    Yet Brown disposed of this dedicated workforce.

    The justification to workers for outsourcing to the new company, Ricoh, was its supposed efficiency, as reported in the June 25 Herald article “U. signs controversial agreement to outsource mail operations.” A few months earlier, Brown invited Ricoh consultants to observe the mailroom. They found that the mailroom at Brown was inefficient, and that outsourcing to their own company was the solution. This glaring conflict of interest would have been laughable had Brown not agreed to their offer and laid off the workers, who had already been requesting the equipment that would have increased their efficiency.

    Perhaps Gentry and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Beppie Huidekoper had hoped the workers would accept their decision as “the way the world works” and meekly move on. But the workers did not go quietly into night. They fought back, mobilizing students, alums, staff members and community members.

    A petition asking the administrators to maintain the structure and staff of the mailroom began circulating June 21, gathering 1,000 signatures by June 25. Soon after, concerned students met with administrators to discuss their opposition. When administrators dismissed them, workers held a rally against the outsourcing in mid-July. Yet the administrators remained committed to Ricoh, and Brown ultimately outsourced the mailroom.

    While some workers chose to apply for a job with Ricoh, only two were accepted, and two other former workers were rejected for being “unqualified” for the position. Moreover, workers who lost their jobs and agreed to a so-called “generous” severance package had to sign an agreement that they would not speak poorly of the University or department employees, according to a worker — or presumably they would risk losing their severance package, which comes on a weekly basis.

    This agreement implies that workers do indeed have reason to “speak negatively,” and Brown knows it. For a university that prides itself on championing freedom of speech, this is a shameful act: Brown bought the silence of former workers about the injustice it committed.

    Meanwhile, the results of outsourcing to Ricoh have spoken for themselves. Important packages have been lost, students have not received medication in a timely fashion, departmental mail has been lost, and lines for picking up packages can be extremely long. This is a statement in opposition not to the new mailroom employees, but rather to Brown’s decision to outsource to Ricoh, and without transparency or accountability to workers or students.

    We are working with the Brown University Community Council on a proposal that would build transparency and accountability into the process of making outsourcing decisions so that any plan to do so would first be submitted to the BUCC for review and recommendation. We look forward to the successful development and implementation of this policy. We urge you to look at our letter to the BUCC, comment and sign in support of it on our Facebook page.

    In the here and now, however, Brown’s decision to invite an analyst from Ricoh to come this Wednesday — a fact brought to our attention by the mailroom drivers’ union — is alarming and deja vu-inciting. The analysts will assess the two mailroom drivers, positions not previously outsourced to Ricoh. Will the analyst again find inefficiencies and promise that Ricoh will solve them?

    Once again, this obvious conflict of interest would be humorous if workers’ jobs were not on the line. Given that Ricoh has failed to improve services in the mailroom, inviting the company back to possibly expand its services seems ill-conceived. We join the two mailroom drivers who are currently Brown employees as we ask that President Christina Paxson, Huidekoper and Gentry publicly commit not to outsource these jobs to Ricoh and maintain the current employees. We ask that they disinvite the analyst.

    We ask readers to stand in solidarity with the mailroom drivers against the corporatization of our university. This time, we will make sure Brown is both accountable to workers and transparent in its decision-making. This time, we will not let Brown dispose of campus workers in the name of efficiency.

    The Brown University Student Labor Alliance acts in solidarity with workers in our campus community, our local community and our global community.