Nov. 14-20 marked Worker Appreciation Week on campus and in honor of the week, various groups, including Campus Ministry, Student Government, the Center for Social Concerns (CSC), BridgeND and residence halls, came together to celebrate and uplift the Notre Dame staff.
Bridget Schippers, a junior who helped organize Worker Appreciation Week (WAW), said the goal of the week was “to try to show workers that they’re an appreciated part of our community and that students do think of them as we go about our day, that they’re not forgotten in the background, and that we see them at the front.”
Under the banner of WAW, BridgeND hosted a discussion Monday on the state of labor in America. Also on Monday, Campus Ministry hosted an opening mass for workers, in addition to a prayer service for workers at the Grotto on Tuesday and a Social Justice Stories panel featuring several campus staff on Thursday.
SolidarityND discussed Catholic Social Tradition and the dignity of labor at their meeting on Thursday, and the CSC served ethically-sourced coffee flights to complement a labor discussion on Sunday.
Schippers and Quinnlan Murray, another junior who organized WAW, are part of the Raising the Standard Campaign (RSC), which advocates for a just wage structure at Notre Dame. The RSC saw a victory earlier this year when Notre Dame announced that they would raise the minimum wage to $15. Much of the inspiration for WAW grew out of their work with the RSC.
“Something big that came out of [the RSC efforts] was realizing how many workers were afraid to talk about their experiences on campus because of backlash that happened in the past. And so, at the same time as we were recommending policy changes and ways to improve either benefits or actual wages for workers, we found that something else that really could use work on our campus is the environment,” Schippers said.
However, Schippers and Murray said that Raising the Standard is not an official campus group, so they had to approach each group involved in Worker Appreciation Week separately.
“If the best way to actually make this happen and to try to improve the environment for workers on campus is not for our name to be associated with this, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Schippers said.
Murray became involved with RSC and WAW when she realized that labor affects everyone. She has worked nine jobs on campus, and she wanted to participate in a campaign that would tangibly affect her life and the lives of other campus workers.
“Labor touches every single person, everybody works,” Murray said. “And right now, people are really taking notice of labor nationally, in politics. So I think that another goal of Worker Appreciation Week was to bring that conversation to campus.”
On Monday through Wednesday of this week, students had the opportunity to write and deliver thank-you notes to campus workers. Tables were stationed with supplies in SDH, NDH and Duncan Student Center.
Schippers said that at first, a lot of students misunderstood the premise of the thank-you notes. Rather than personally delivering the cards, students tried to hand the cards back to Schippers, thinking that her team would deliver the notes.
“It was shocking to see how many people were like ‘I don’t know any campus workers,’” Schippers said.
Nevertheless, she said she witnessed many students being “brave” and having their first face-to-face interactions with campus workers.
Schippers estimates that over 500 thank-you cards were delivered to campus workers from students this week. Eighteen residence halls also delivered flowers to their cleaning staffs.
On Friday, Murray and several other students participated in a dining hall clean-up, where they worked the post-lunch cleaning shift. Murray went around North Dining Hall wiping down tables, cleaning plates and pushing in chairs.
“It was weird being in that position. Because even though I was a student, it felt like because I was now carrying a rag that I was a completely different person all of a sudden… Not a single person came up to me or said anything,” Murray said.
Murray said she was grateful for the perspective that the dining hall clean-up gave her, and she hopes to continue to do them as often as once a month.
On Thursday, the Faith and Justice Alliance branch of Campus Ministry co-sponsored a WAW event titled “Social Justice Stories: Unheard Voices of Notre Dame.” Becky Czarnecki, assistant director of Faith and Justice at Campus Ministry, partnered with the WAW team to recruit four campus workers to speak on a panel about their experiences.
One such worker, Linh Tran, works as a supervisor in Building Services. He has worked at Notre Dame since 2009, beginning at Reckers (the now-defunct pizza restaurant attached to South Dining Hall), then moving to Star Ginger and eventually Building Services.
Tran said that though he has always wanted to go to college, circumstances prevented him from doing so. He was born the youngest of 16 children in Vietnam, and he never got to complete his high school degree because he was put in a labor camp.
“I think the one thing that really brought me to the University of Notre Dame was about education. The dream that I wanted was to be in college. Being able to see all of [the students] come to this school and seeing myself through you… that kind of gives me another comfort that at least I am able to touch part of [my dream],” Tran said.
When Tran first began at Notre Dame, he said he was repeatedly denied the promotion to manager, despite his experience and natural skill. This pushed him to pursue a college degree in the United States, and he eventually graduated with his master’s in human resources and organizational leadership. Tran especially thanked all the Notre Dame students who tutored him in math and composition along his educational journey.
“That’s the one thing I love about Notre Dame — there was no difference between me and the students or the students and me,” Tran said.
The student senate is currently considering a resolution that would formally declare the week before Thanksgiving Worker Appreciation Week every year.
Schippers said that many universities, including Purdue University, Columbia University and Indiana University, already have a similar event.
Going forward, Schippers said that she hopes Notre Dame students will continue to extend their gratitude to Notre Dame workers. Her goal is for more students to know campus workers’ names when addressing their thank-you cards next year because they’ve built a relationship.
“I think the biggest hope is that… it’s not a surprise whenever we hear about how interconnected we are with the people here every day with us,” Schippers said.
Contact Katie Muchnick at firstname.lastname@example.org.