Worker's Rights at RIT
by Taylor Derrisaw | published Oct. 10th, 2014
A lot of controversy has existed over the debate between raising the minimum wage and keeping it stagnant. At RIT, many student workers earn minimum wage, particularly workers in concession and food-related jobs. Recently, marches at the University of Rochester have brought to light the poor wages received by students on both campuses.
Natajah Roberts, a local organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was highly influential in the marches and was one of the lead petitioners.
“The petitions in the march were meant to show the student community support for workers on this campus,” Roberts commented. “The purpose of delivering the petitions through the march was to let the administration know, particularly the president, that students in the community stand behind these workers.”
The SEIU represents over 25 universities in New York State alone, and many other universities across the United States.
According to a press release from the SEIU, “On Tuesday, September 23, students, union members and community leaders marched to the presidents’ offices at RIT, St. John Fisher College, and Roberts Wesleyan College demanding meaningful job security, fair pay
The press release also mentions that workers are attempting to unite under the SEIU, Workers United and Operating Engineers.
Jake Allen, another organizer with SEIU, was also very influential in the campaign.
“The standards that these workers live under are generally much higher than their non-union counter parts,” Allen commented.“By coming together and by forming a union they have a chance here at RIT to improve their lives.”
One RIT student who participated in the march, fifth year Biotechnology major Samuel Richheimer, believed he would be turning his back on fellow students if he didn’t participate in the march.
“Service workers at RIT deserve better, they deserve the right to organize and unionize to secure rights that would otherwise be denied to them,” Richheimer said in an interview with members of the SEIU.
Roberts previously participated in a march when she was a student at U of R. At the expiration of their contract, workers were afraid of losing their health benefits. Roberts and many others petitioned to the president to keep the worker’s healthcare benefits.
“We demanded that they paid workers fair wages and [that they] kept their healthcare. That’s my previous experience with these kinds of support campaigns.”
In 2009, according to Roberts, workers at RIT attempted to form a union to improve the workplace. The attempt failed and the workers involved believed RIT’s administration was unwilling to cooperate. According to Allen, RIT has spent money in the past to shut down union movements.
“There can be no debate that this is an institution with a lot of money … new buildings are going up every year, but workers are still unable to earn $10 an hour,” Allen said.