Students demand end to outsourcing, understaffing at SLA-led rally

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Chief Operating Officer Amos Himmelstein listens to the demands of the Student Labor Alliance outside Hinchliffe Hall at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Monday, April 23, 2018. Audrey Rudolph/The Occidental

Students gathered on Dumke Patio at 11:30 a.m. April 23 outside of a board of trustees meeting to participate in a rally organized by the Student-Labor Alliance (SLA) to protest outsourcing and understaffing at Occidental. Throughout the rally students chanted, listened to members of SLA talk about understaffing and outsourcing and sang songs. Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Amos Himmelstein arrived at the rally around 12:30 p.m. to speak to protesters and respond to student demands directed at him.

SLA members outlined their three demands in their posters and speeches: to stop outsourcing jobs, stop overworking current workers and hire more full-time Facilities staff. They prepared a poster with these demands and a line at the bottom for Himmelstein to sign with a large marker.

Approximately 150 students attended the rally. Many wore blue to reflect the color of workers’ uniforms. They held signs with messages including: “We love Oxy workers,” “Hire More Full Time Staff” and “Oxy! End Outsourcing.” SLA members also led attendees in chants such as “Workers’ rights are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back” and “Amos, escucha, estamos en la lucha,” meaning “Amos, listen, we are in the fight.”

About 45 minutes into the rally, the organizers directed protesters around the side of Hinchliffe Hall where they thought Himmelstein planned to enter the building. Shortly after, they returned to the original location at Hinchliffe Hall.

As Himmelstein walked past the rally, he stopped to talk with students for about 20 minutes. Himmelstein said that Occidental does not practice outsourcing.

“I agree with all these points. It’s really about thinking about what this means, because people have different definitions of these things. I do stand by these principles. We don’t outsource,” Himmelstein said.

Board of Trustees member Christopher Calkins stood with Himmelstein as he talked with students.

“These are all issues of which we’re aware, we’re aware that Amos is working on them, he’s trying to find the right balance and trying to find [something],” Calkins said. “We are listening, we’re going to follow how this works out. And we have heard you guys. Frankly, we’ve got in front of us the issues you’ve brought forward.”

Himmelstein and students engaged in conversation about outsourcing and overworking.

“We acknowledge that outsourcing will happen if and only if a worker does not have the specific qualifications for a very specialized task, but our issue is that outsourcing has been used as a band-aid solution for rampant understaffing,” Layla Hamedi (junior) said. “Outsourcing is not the solution, hiring more temp workers is not the solution, they don’t get benefits, they don’t have the same protections. We want more full-time staff to do the job, we know they can do better.”

When asked by students to specify concrete actions he has taken to address problems workers face, Himmelstein said he is trying to fill one vacated position, currently occupied by a temporary worker, with a full-time worker.

“We will continue to meet with staff and union representatives to address the staffing issues,” Himmelstein said via email. “We will also continue to speak with student leaders as well.”

At the rally, the organizers and Himmelstein planned a meeting for April 25. Members of SLA previously met with Himmelstein March 8 and 26.

In addition to their three demands towards Himmelstein regarding outsourcing, overworking and understaffing, SLA members also aimed to reach 1,000 signatures on an anti-outsourcing petition and encouraged attendees at the protest to sign it.

Head of Campus Safety Rick Tanksley and Dean of Students Rob Flot observed the event from the periphery.

SLA publicized the rally through fliers posted around campus and a Facebook event created April 22, the night before the rally.

Chair of the Board of Trustees Susan Mallory and President Jonathan Veitch acknowledged the rally via an email to the student body from Marsha Schnirring, Interim Assistant Dean of the Library/CDLA and Secretary of the College.

“Student demonstrators rallied outside the Board Room on Monday morning to express concerns about outsourcing. Amos Himmelstein, Chief Operating Officer, who had met with Student-Labor Alliance (SLA) members previously, spoke with the group and moved up his next meeting with them to April 25,” Schnirring said via email.

Members of SLA declined requests for interviews but communicated their satisfaction with the event through a press release.

“Reaction to the rally was overwhelmingly positive. The goals set by the Student-Labor Alliance (Among them, to raise awareness of the issue of overworking on campus) were exceeded, and students expressed their excitement and pride for participating in the action,” SLA members said in their press release.

Himmelstein said that he was pleased to see so many students that care about Occidental’s employees.

According to Tyler Webb (sophomore), the rally felt like an important step forward.

“It wasn’t just a protest or a rally, they actually got something done out of it which I thought was really cool and historical to witness,” Webb said.

The sense of student support for workers was palpable, according to Pablo Nukaya-Petralia (sophomore).

“I was impressed by the hard work that SLA put into it, and their whole campaign. The amount of support they’ve gotten from the student body was really cool to see embodied,” Nukaya-Petralia said.

According to SLA’s Facebook page, members of SLA, 20 workers from Occidental’s facilities and dining departments and Union Representative from Teamsters Local 911 Carlos Rubio met with Himmelstein April 26.

“After hearing many of the workers’ stories about the physical and mental stress that understaffing has caused them, Amos pledged his support during the upcoming contract negotiations (happening over the summer) and budget cycle (approved in September),” SLA posted on their Facebook page.