Unions necessary on campus
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, September 30, 2008
On Sept. 2, a group of one hundred students, workers, faculty and community members gathered at Notre Dame to celebrate the labor rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). While UDHR is cause for celebration, the speeches at this event offered a critical eye, demanding a collective voice for Notre Dame’s workers. Last May, a need for this voice became obvious when three building service workers presented a petition to Staff Advisory Council, signed by 216 workers around campus, and were told that they needed 2000 for the petition to mean anything. The subject of the petition was a vacation policy, changed several years ago without meaningful consultation with the workers whom it affects. The petition called for a new policy that would make it easier for workers to plan their vacations: a simple request, rejected flatly.
No existing body on campus represents the concerns of workers. How, then, can labor rights be achieved? UDHR offers some guidance in Article 23(4): “Everyone has the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” Catholic Social Tradition unambiguously supports trade unions. For example, Pope John Paul II, in Laborem Exercens (20), calls trade unions an “indispensable elements of social life”.
In the past, Notre Dame has claimed to uphold this right, while arguing that unions are unnecessary. On April 20, 2006, John Affleck-Graves, the Executive Vice President, said, “there is nothing a union can accomplish for them that cannot be accomplished through an open and honest relationship such as has traditionally prevailed between the University and its employees.”
The vacation policy issue demonstrates that this relationship is neither open nor honest. The University’s handling of this issue is emblematic of its suppression of a movement that has been fighting, issue by issue, for over three years now, to address working conditions. Unions are necessary at Notre Dame to realize these goals: to provide all its workers with just wages, fair treatment, and most importantly, a collective voice.