Testimony to Baltimore City Council

Today I testified before the City Council supporting the Displaced Workers Protection Ordinance. This bill would give contracted service workers the guarantee of continued employment when contractors change. This is a policy we have been fighting for at Johns Hopkins for a year, with little progress. I’m glad to have been a part of the bill’s unanimous passing in the Labor Committee. It now heads to the full Council, which will vote on it by the middle of June.

Here is a transcript of my testimony:

Thank you, Madam Chair. My name is Corey Payne and I have been a student at Johns Hopkins University for four years. It is clear to all of us on campus that subcontracted workers are important members of our community. In addition to the outstanding services that they always provide, they are regular, friendly faces in a university environment that often offers too few. As a freshman, I remember looking forward to my meals in the dining hall because I had developed friendships with many of the workers there. They would ask me how my day was going, how I did on the exam I had that morning, or why I wasn’t there yesterday for lunch. They looked out for me and made me feel like part of a community. One of the standard aspects of dorm living at Hopkins is getting to know which security officers guard which buildings and who has shifts at your own front door. In my sophomore year, I would pick up a soda from the dining hall on my way home every Wednesday for the officer out front. She had a long shift that evening and had worked all day at her second job beforehand. She always had a story or a joke; she was happy to see us even during her toughest days. She made us feel safe and at home.

These types of stories are not unique to me. Countless students have built relationships with the contract workers at Hopkins. Having people around who know you and know the campus makes you feel at home even when you are thousands of miles away, maybe for the first time. This familiarity is of the utmost importance to us and it is one of the main reasons why more than one thousand students at Johns Hopkins have signed petitions, attended demonstrations, and volunteered their time over the past year with the Student-Labor Action Coalition, or SLAC. SLAC is currently pressuring the university administration to implement policies giving contract workers greater equality with direct employees. One of SLAC’s goals, which has received this widespread support from the student body, is displaced worker protection.

This goal emerged out of a situation in the summer of 2016 where the university administration threatened to change security contractors, as Officer Summerville already spoke about. This change put the jobs and the newly earned healthcare benefits of security workers at risk. Suddenly, the futures for hundreds of employees and members of the Hopkins community were uncertain. Students worked together with the security officers’ union to fight back against the change. We were ultimately successful, but currently nothing is preventing a similar situation from arising in the future. With a displaced worker protection policy enacted, Hopkins would have been able to switch contract companies without threatening the jobs of hundreds of security officers. Such a policy would have allowed for workers to continue in their roles in our community while also offering Hopkins the freedom to choose a company that best meets its needs.

SLAC is currently collecting survey data from contract workers at Hopkins. While the study is still ongoing, we have found that nearly all of the contract workers are Black Baltimoreans. In a city and at a university with strong legacies of racism and classism, this bill presents an opportunity to begin to right an historical wrong.

On behalf of the over one thousand Johns Hopkins students who have supported our efforts, I strongly urge you to pass this bill. Doing so would give workers more certainty in their employment, guarantee greater stability in their incomes, and ensure that the communities we have built together will not be disrupted at a moment’s notice.

Thank you.

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