I-House leadership is unfriendly to workers

Residents have problems with the administration of I-House and its treatment of workers.

Nikki Dance/Staff

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I am one of a number of residents who requested and attended a forum at the International House Monday evening. Students heard from administrative staff, dining services workers and other residents. In recent weeks AFSCME-represented Dining Services workers have leveled the following serious charges against their supervisors and the broader I-House management: a long-standing use of temporary positions to avoid hiring the career staff necessary to get the job done; relying on a staffing agency which exacerbates rather than ameliorates difficulties; and fostering an adversarial climate in which multiple workers attest to being intimidated.

The response of the I-House administration to concerned students has been partly conciliatory, partly evasive. Campus policy has been invoked to ward off information requests by residents, and follow-up requests have

elicited information, but often not that which was requested.

At a forum early in April, Dining Services Director Gary Beitch assured residents that he had close relationships with his employees, and that they were all on the same page. But Executive Director Martin Brennan and Chief Financial Officer Shirley Spiller have repeatedly demonstrated that they simply can't understand where workers are coming from in their frustration over the length of time and the process whereby positions are being filled.

Management literally laughed off the idea that dining services staff have experienced intimidation, exhibiting what has come to be the characteristic reluctance where not outright refusal on the part of the administration to see the problem from the other perspective - that of the workers who do the actual work of putting their plans into action from the other end of the professional relationship. There is endless talk about fostering a streamlined, competitive environment, which has workers "snapping at (each other's) heels," but little about what all of this means for the day-to-day working conditions (other than the subtext that the I-House, like the University of California as a whole, will be increasingly run along corporate lines).

The cavalier dismissal of the role of organized labor (one long-term member of staff had his concerns dismissed by a superior on the grounds that he was a "union man"), and of intimidation (one worker was told to take off a union sticker or go home), suggests a management much-removed from the day-to-day lives of its employees, and woefully uninformed about the role of unions in protecting employees' rights and promoting their welfare.

As a three-year resident, I have certainly been long-aware of a set of grievances and tensions that cut across many sectors of the community: whether a dodgy restructuring of RA positions, supervisors who aren't in the least shy about bawling out employees in front of residents in a manner as unprofessional as it is borderline-abusive, an alleged assault on a staff member that was recently reported in the Daily Cal, the extreme sensitivity of management to criticism, or the paring back of residents' ability to purchase flexible dining plans. Those who have been here for longer speak of seeing even broader shifts and of a fear that I-House is deviating from its mission.

Perhaps it is fitting that an institution that was partially a product of early twentieth-century international idealism, but which grew up in an era increasingly intolerant of organized labor, should find itself on the front line of labor disputes, which are at the heart of the broader re-positioning of the university as a marketplace.

Not only do I-House management's hiring and firing practices have the potential to adversely impact residents' daily lives by placing kitchen staff under severe pressure, the staff who work at the hall are a real part of our lives. One of the selling points of the International House - which becomes ever more exclusive as it raises rent each year - is its emphasis on community. The profound hypocrisy; the deeply un-communitarian, increasingly corporate outlook; the disrespect towards staff; the occasional condescension towards residents and the tendency to gloss over conflict when it materializes all speak to a troubled approach to providing housing for students on campus.

Jeff Schauer is a graduate student and resident of I-House. Reply to [email protected]

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