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Housekeepers: our family, exploited

Thanks to Doan & Satisky’s excellent article, “Housekeepers to rebid for shifts, locations as union president resigns in protest,” the greater campus community is now aware of a grave injustice that has been unfolding for several weeks in relative silence. Duke professes to value our community, the citizens of Durham, and the staff who work tirelessly to ensure the university functions seamlessly every day. When a situation arises like what is happening to the hardworking housekeeping and Marketplace staff, I have to wonder how serious Duke is about upholding those values.  

I cannot speak for everyone at Duke, but the housekeepers in my building are beloved, kind and hardworking. They do everything they can to make sure that the faculty, staff and students work in a space that is clean and safe—and they are often taken for granted. I was raised to believe that family are those whom you value, protect and love, and that at times, we have to fight for our families. The housekeeping staff are my family, and when Duke does something that will irrevocably impact my family and cause them suffering, I have to speak out.

The process that has brought about this change has lacked transparency, a clear rationale (I reject outright that Duke should make any change just because that’s the way other institutions are doing things), and a plan that addresses equity and fairness in a meaningful way. It is disingenuous for Leslye Kornegay, director of university environmental services, to state that the current proposal complies with the collective bargaining agreement, and that it was discussed with the union and the staff. It was more accurately foisted upon them by the administration with no option for debate or negotiation. I cry foul and request that the administration look at this new policy for what it is: a tactic to save Duke a few dollars at the expense of the working people who make Duke’s campus run.  

And let’s be very clear here: the staff who are most impacted by this misguided policy are disproportionately people of color, from the surrounding Durham community, who have had historically tenuous relations with Duke as an institution. For shame.

Would you want your family member to have to lose their spot on a high-functioning team just because someone with more seniority wanted their position, regardless of merit or suitability? Would you want your family member to have to learn to operate heavy machinery or equipment just to keep their job, when they are already overburdened with responsibility? Would you want your family member to be forced to work third shift because their regular shift was eliminated and they lack the seniority to secure a shift that will maintain their responsibilities outside of working at Duke?  

It’s no secret that Duke has been cutting back on facilities resources in some attempt at “streamlining” and impacting the bottom line, but it always seems to be at the expense of the people who can least afford to be impacted. Perhaps we could look at the expenses we carelessly spend every day at higher levels of the Duke administration and faculty, instead of asking people who are already working hard to do more with less, to give up the positions and shifts that they have held for many years, and to be bloody well grateful for having a job at all. 

Shame on Duke for treating our family this way. We can, should and must do better.

Carmel Lee is the director of research opportunities for Trinity and Pratt.

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