BSG delays vote on statement of support for housekeepers
October 18, 2019
Following a contentious debate, the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) decided to delay a vote to ratify a statement supporting housekeepers until the upcoming Wednesday meeting on October 23.
The meeting began with public comment time, which led to a wide-ranging discussion of the proposal and labor issues at the College that lasted the duration of the meeting.
Caroline Poole ’22, the Faculty Development Committee representative to BSG, introduced the proposal at last week’s meeting, following the publication of an op-ed in the Orient by a dozen housekeepers describing difficult and at times unsafe working conditions.
“In sum, [the statement is intended to be] an act of solidarity, a challenge [to] the administration and an invitation to the administrators to confirm that employees will not face intimidation,” Poole explained in a phone interview with the Orient.
Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Matt Orlando responded to the op-ed, calling the claims misleading or false. Orlando and Mary McAteer Kennedy, associate vice president and executive director of campus services, both attended the meeting and took questions from assembly members regarding both the statement and the treatment of housekeepers.
The meeting was uncharacteristically boisterous for the BSG, as a throng of students crowded into the back of Daggett Lounge to watch the debate and speak during public comment time.
“This is the most people that have come to a BSG meeting ever in my time here,” noted BSG President Ural Mishra ’20.
“We are here because we firmly believe that students have the power and responsibility to expose areas where the College should do better,” Song Eraou ’23 said during public comment time. “As representatives of the student body, BSG members should echo and support student efforts to support on-campus staff. Not doing so is as much a statement as doing so.”
Three housekeepers also attended the meeting and made remarks.
“It used to be a common phrase for workers to hear, ‘if you don’t like it you can leave,’” Housekeeper Beth Icangelo stated. “Workers at the College should have no reason to fear vocalizing concerns and calling for changes that are needed. Everyone here at Bowdoin is here to make the world a better place. Why not start at home?”
Orlando delivered a statement regarding comments made in the previous week’s BSG meeting, where the proposal was originally introduced.
“The College would never retaliate, would never intimidate [employees and] would never tolerate [intimidation] on this campus,” Orlando explained. “This goes against our ethos, what we are all about, and I have zero tolerance for it.”
Kennedy also defended herself against accusations raised in the previous week’s meeting that she requested photos of housekeepers not doing their jobs.
Although questions focused on the working conditions of housekeepers, BSG members also inquired about wages.
“We set our wages based on a competitive market and not on a living wage,” Orlando said.
The assembly voted 13-11 in favor of delaying the vote on Poole’s proposal until next Wednesday. BSG Vice President Arein Nguyen ’21 introduced the motion to delay the vote after members of the audience and representatives voiced frustration at the lack of housekeeper involvement in the meeting.
Despite the delay, there was significant support from representatives to invite housekeepers to meet with assembly members at some point next week during the day in order to accommodate their early shifts.
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Hi, as a member of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance, I just wanted to provide some clarification on the photos issue. From BLA meetings with cleaning staff, we have heard numerous reports of them being asked to take photos of one another during work by other housekeeping team leaders (not Mary Lou) in order to check each on other. The encouragement of this kind of surveillance tactic by current management has been reported by some workers who feel uncomfortable and targeted, particularly a few members of the BLA. It was my mistake to attach Mary Lou’s name to this practice, and I apologize for doing so.