JHU efforts to cut a union company raises doubts about its commitment to Baltimore

This op-ed originally appeared in The Baltimore Sun on 7/29/16

By Corey Payne, Gracie Hargrove, and Chase Alston
Johns Hopkins University and the AlliedBarton security guards who patrol its Homewood campus have a subcontracting relationship — removing much of the responsibility of labor protections and adequate support from JHU and placing it on a “middle man.” Through solidarity and organization, the security guards at JHU have been able to combat the worst effects of this precarious working relationship. Two years ago, they unionized through the SEIU, and have since fought for and won health care coverage, and they continue to advocate for a living wage.

Recently, that collective bargaining power has been threatened. JHU has opened its contracting to companies other than the unionized AlliedBarton, tailoring its bidding process to a company with close ties to JHU — Broadway — that is not unionized. If a non-union company replaces AlliedBarton, the gains made by the security guards are thrown into question; the slated changes to health coverage weren’t scheduled to take effect until January.

There is no doubt that University President Ron Daniels’ watchful eye on the “bottom line” has been a leading factor in his continuing reappointment. Up until now, the administration has succeeded by running the university like a business. With the addition of the current unionization conflict, attempts are being made to cut back on labor costs — a measure of austerity that is easily implemented when workers are not unionized. In its desire to cut expenditures, the administration is willing to cut the rights and advancements of its own security guards.

On Wednesday, after four days of organizing, our two Johns Hopkins University undergraduate student organizations — Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Student Union — delivered a petition to President Daniels and other members of the university administration. The petition, signed by 588 affiliates (89 percent of whom are current or former students), demands that JHU enter into a contract with a union security company in order to protect the gains — and maintain the collective bargaining rights — of Homewood security guards.

Given that Homewood campus is mostly empty during the summer months, and that our organizations had only four days to organize this response, this petition shows immense solidarity with our university’s security guards. In the past year, Hopkins students have proven to be more engaged about their own lives on campus; from hundreds demonstrating against racism to over a thousand petitioning against academic policy changes, we students have broken our historic apathy. We will not solely organize for ourselves; we stand shoulder to shoulder with our security guards and the Baltimore community. Even when that puts us at odds with the JHU administration.

Nearly all of the unionized security guards are black Baltimoreans — the same demographic that JHU has had a long and often cruel history of exploiting and oppressing. Through current projects such as HopkinsLocal and the Homewood Community Partners Initiative, President Daniels is trying to demonstrate a stronger and more improved relationship between JHU and the Baltimore community. The JHU administration has already supposedly committed to protecting the benefits of staff, as outlined in the administration’s Roadmap to Diversity — a rather toothless document that was released after the Black Student Union led protests against racism at Hopkins last fall. Yet if the administration removes this union from Homewood campus, President Daniels’ frequent statements of community partnership and solidarity will prove to be empty words.

The JHU administration’s white savior complex forces it to “help” Baltimore — but only if it results in greater benefits for the university. In order for JHU to stand with the Baltimore community, Hopkins must be willing to reduce the harm it still causes many Baltimoreans. This can begin here and now, with these workers. To display this supposed solidarity, President Daniels and the JHU administration must enter a contract with a union company. Anything less is a slap in the face to the university’s workers and the city at large.

Corey Payne (cpayne20@jhu.edu), Grace Hargrove (ghargro2@jhu.ed), and Chase Alston (calston8@jhu.edu) are student organizers at Johns Hopkins, where they are in the class of 2017.

 

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