Picture of the persident’s mansion that is undergoing a $5,000,000 renoovation as workers struggle to meet the necessities of daily life while putting up with harsh abuse at the site of exploitation — work.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Solomon Comissiong, author of this piece,  is a frequent  contributor to Dailycensored.  Readers can use the search engine at this site and find his work.

Here, Solomon takes up the struggle for human rights and labor dignity at the University of Maryland.  Much has been written here at Dailycensored regarding the plight of workers at the university; this editorial by Solomon puts the issues in perspective.

by Solomon Comissiong

When I became president of this university’s chapter of the Black Faculty and Staff Association in October 2010, I had little idea of what laid before our organization in regard to the current campus wide struggle for workers’ rights. I had no idea about the countless stories of pain and suffering that would soon fall upon my ears and conscience. I began to routinely hear workplace issues regarding racial discrimination, sexual abuse and xenophobia. I soon had a procession of workers — mostly housekeepers, custodial staff and landscaping staff — requesting to speak to me about their workplace issues. Stories of racial discrimination were rampant, as were the horrifying stories of sexual abuse. With each story I became more submerged in a quagmire of emotions. Listening to the countless stories of women (all women of color) being systematically abused, both mentally and physically, began to affect my morale at work. Imagine how it impacted those on the receiving end of abuse.

I wanted to figure out a way I could work with others to help put an end to the workplace hell so many people were enduring each time they stepped foot on the campus. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

After bringing this issue to the BFSA Executive Board, it wholeheartedly agreed we should move to take actions to help eradicate workplace abuse. Students took a series of incremental steps, including an April 2011 rally in the rain (which included American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1072 members, BFSA members, students and alumni), a series of forums and a 56-page report detailing workplace abuse which was personally handed to university President Wallace Loh on May 27. (That report can be found at bfsa.umd.edu.)

The quest for social justice and human rights, via workers’ rights, has now transformed itself into a full-fledged movement led by a coalition simply known as Justice at Maryland. This is a coalition comprised of students, workers, union and BFSA members and alumni. Students have been the catalyst in creating, cultivating and maintaining this important coalition, better known as JAM. They have organized various forums, facilitated early morning security walks for workers, organized rallies and even hosted biweekly meetings. Students such as sophomore anthropology major Sisi Reid produced an hour-long documentary detailing this movement. JAM members’ contributions have always been centered around selflessness, social justice and a desire to help others.

JAM has also put together therapy sessions for women who have been abused on the job at this university. These therapy sessions could not happen without the help of a professional therapist, Victoria Freeman, who has volunteered her time.

I never would have thought that after several forums and a comprehensive 56-page report we would still find ourselves in the midst of a protracted struggle simply to establish a campus workplace environment free of sexual abuse, racial discrimination, xenophobia and retaliation. I am shocked the university has not issued a broad-based, tangible, zero-tolerance policy, in regard to those issues.

The lowest paid workers should also have unfettered opportunities for professional development. Without these workers, our campus would deteriorate. The university should be riddled with equal rights for all — as it stands our campus has a long way to go. Some things in life we must be impatient in our quest to gain them — workers’ rights, is one of those things.  JAM is an impatient organization.

You can see more on the YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoWqkye0p2E

Solomon Comissiong is president of the Black Faculty and Staff Association. He can be reached at solomon@umd.edu. This editorial can be found at: http://www.diamondbackonline.com/guest-column-impatient-for-worker-rights-1.2828472#.T3HOWY5uFEI