Solomon Comissiong at a forum with university workers who complain of workplace abuse, harrassment and sexual abuse from management at UMD
I have written extensively about the problems that plague employees at the University of Maryland on several occasions. The workplace abuse heaped on them by a crooked administration, cronyism and patronage has been the subject of many news reports here at Daily Censored. The following was sent to me by Justice At Maryland, an organization that has sprung up to help university employees. There website is: http://www.justiceatmaryland.com
JAM is a community campaign composed of students, workers, alumni, and area residents committed to making the UMD campus a safe environment for workers.
From Maria Romas at Diamondback, the student newspaper at Maryland University Monday, December 5, 2011
To help Facilities Management employees working at 4 a.m. feel less isolated, some students and faculty are working with University Police to increase safety perceptions in on-campus buildings and to open communication between workers and police.
Members of Justice at Maryland: Fight UMD Worker Abuse have met with University Police officials twice during the past two weeks to hammer out goals to combat alleged workplace abuse occurring during early morning hours in on-campus buildings, reports of which surfaced last semester. University Police will be holding informational sessions in English and Spanish to educate workers about the department’s available resources and to increase police visibility near on-campus buildings during Facilities Management employees’ morning shifts.
“Workers are dissuaded from making the initial phone call to the police to report an incident, like finding the back door of the building they are working in cracked open, because they don’t have permission at that moment from their supervisor,” said Solomon Comissiong, president of the Black Faculty and Staff Association. “The police said they want to change this, and they want to hear when the workers feel in danger.”
In September, the administration released a report — which was based on an investigation into claims of staff abuse in the Facilities Management and Residential Facilities departments — detailing nine measures university officials will take to improve the work place environment. However, BFSA officials and members of Justice at Maryland said the report was not enough and decided to implement programs on their own accord.
Members of the coalition have set up bi-monthly meetings with a psychologist, who is volunteering to counsel workers for free. The program kicked off Thursday, Comissiong said.
Another crucial step is ensuring workers can freely communicate with the police, especially if they feel scared during their shifts, according to Comissiong.
While police officers will continue to patrol their regular assigned on-campus sectors, officers will check up on where staff members check in for their 4 a.m. shifts, according to police spokesman Capt. Marc Limansky. A starting date for this initiative and specific checkpoint locations have not yet been determined, Limansky said.
Members of the coalition said their overarching goal is for police officers to do rounds inside the buildings.
However, Limansky said the department has not needed to add more officers to the early morning patrol — which could add police presence inside buildings — because it has not received frequent reports of incidents that have occurred during that time.
“These checkpoints and patrols are not going to make a difference statistically because there are no reported crimes,” Limansky said. “If there are violent acts happening, we want to know about it and have an open line of communication with staff members.”
Starting this semester, Justice at Maryland members have been walking around various academic buildings once a week at 4 a.m. to show workers students are looking out for them, said Sam Williamson, a coalition member.
“If police are involved, we can make the campus more secure,” the junior government and politics and history major said. “With the police behind us, we will be able to pressure supervisors to treat workers with respect and listen to their concerns to stop this culture of abuse and fear on our campus.”
Additionally, the department will hold informational sessions to discuss how to report a crime and other on-campus resources, such as how to receive a police escort to their building. Limansky said the police department encourages workers to report incidents to them directly so they can hear firsthand accounts of alleged abuse.
“The Justice at Maryland group has informed us of what they know, but I’d like to hear it from the staff members themselves, simply because I don’t know if [the coalition’s] intent is politically charged or what their agenda is,” Limansky said. “I’m sure they are looking out for the well-being of employees, but we can’t just take their word on it.”
Comissiong said the university has a long way to go to improve the workplace environment on the campus.
“There are certain things you just don’t compromise on, and the public safety of your workers is one of them,” he said. “These people are all valued members of the campus, whether they are custodial workers or professors, and their safety needs to be ensured.”
By Diamondback Editorial Board of the University of Maryland
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
After the university released a plan this fall to improve the workplace environment for employees of Facilities Management and Residential Facilities, numerous groups, including the university’s Black Faculty and Staff Association, student group Justice at Maryland and this editorial board, were in agreement — the report’s recommendations were insufficient. Nonetheless, university President Wallace Loh and his administration stood by the nine measures outlined in their report. But recently, another group has joined in the discussion, and it’s encouraging to see at least one branch of the university — University Police — actually plan to do something tangible about workers’ rights.
Safety is just one of many concerns voiced by Facilities Management and Residential Facilities employees, and rightly so — many campus buildings are cleaned late at night when few people are around, and a string of anonymous complainants have made allegations of sexual harassment. And while there haven’t been many reports of violent crime on the campus in the past year — the recent assault near Cecil Hall notwithstanding — BFSA President Solomon Comissiong questioned whether some safety issues go unreported, saying in an interview with The Diamondback: “Workers are dissuaded from making the initial phone call to police to report an incident … because they don’t have the permission of their supervisor. … The police said they want to change this, and they want to hear when the workers feel in danger.”
After meeting with student activists from Justice at Maryland, University Police have agreed to take steps to combat the problem. Officials said they don’t have the manpower to patrol inside campus buildings at night — as requested by Justice at Maryland — but police agreed to utilize checkpoints near buildings where workers check in for their 4 a.m. shifts.
The main thrust of complaints about worker abuse stems from the allegedly toxic work environment facing many employees. Workers who don’t trust their supervisors or the human resources department have few places to turn, so University Police are working to foster a better relationship with workers. Police spokesman Capt. Marc Limansky hopes an “open line of communication with staff members” will do just that.
And to make sure there aren’t any communication problems, the department is moving to address one issue that may contribute to the underreporting described by Comissiong: the language barrier. English is not the first language for many Facilities Management and Residential Facilities employees. The administration has also taken steps to alleviate the problem by planning to offer more English as a second language classes for workers.
University Police, meanwhile, are planning informational sessions — held in English and Spanish — to ensure workers understand their choices when it comes to on-campus safety. According to Limansky, police will discuss options such as police escorts and means of reporting crime, and they’ll also encourage workers to report incidents directly to the police to ensure they hear about incidents firsthand.
Overall, it’s a refreshing approach to worker complaints, especially after the administration’s report seemed so eager to sweep the issue under the rug. Limansky acknowledged uncertainty about the authenticity of claims made by Justice at Maryland, but it seems the department intends to foster a relationship with workers to hear their side of the story instead of just treat them as adversaries. Comissiong noted, “There are certain things you just don’t compromise on, and the public safety of your workers is one of them.”
If University Police are sincere in their efforts, it seems there may finally be some common ground in the fight to end worker abuse on this campus. Let’s hope Loh’s administration is taking notes.