I will admit to being quite perplexed by the whole “controversy” surrounding the working conditions of the UNC housekeepers. I will admit that when I first read of the “controversy” I considered it a non-issue. I mean really, who cares? With any full-time job I’ve worked in the past, I got a lunch break and that was it. The additional 15 minute breaks that the housekeepers receive seemed more than generous to me, but that was just one guy’s opinion. Now that we’ve got yet another rally on the steps of South Building and the Daily Tar Heel seems absolutely obsessed with the topic (now having devoted most of their back page to it), I will deign to offer my own commentary on the matter.
First let’s consider the rather ridiculous letter to the editor today, written by the leadership of the UNC chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
Write-ups by supervisors, suspensions without pay, and disciplinary action including termination — for sitting down to rest outside of their legal breaks of 15 minutes twice a day and one hour for lunch — are a shameful legacy of the Jim Crow South.
There are two aspects I would like to point out here. The first is the seeming inability of the Left to appreciate the fact that when you break the law (or, in this case, violate the terms of a contract) there are repercussions. So, when housekeepers take unauthorized breaks outside their nearly two hours off every day, they should expect to be punished for that. That’s how it works in the real world. If you don’t do your job, or you’re caught “sitting down on the job,” you run the risk of being fired or suspended.
I’ve also noticed that many people keep referring to the Jim-Crow legacy of the UNC housekeeping contracts. The interesting thing about that argument is that might have held water circa 1960 when such Jim Crow laws actually existed. Let me be the first to welcome the AAU and SAW to the 21st century, where such laws no longer exist and people can freely enter and leave employment. It’s not as if someone held a gun to the housekeeper’s head when they signed the contract limiting them to 90 minute breaks every day. And it’s not as if they can’t leave their jobs if they don’t like the working conditions.
I realize that I am a cold, mean-spirited individual, but could we please move on to some more pressing issue?
2 thoughts on “The Curious Situation Concerning the Housekeepers”
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The AAUP member didn't spell this out clearly enough in the editorial, but the Jim Crow law in question, which is still on the books to the great shame of North Carolina, is General Statute 95-98. This statute is a Jim Crow era law (1959 to be exact, if I remember correctly) barring collective bargaining by NC public employees. It was passed at a time when racist and anti-union legislators in North Carolina, fearful of the organizing successes of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters union, wanted to head off any possibility of black and white public employees unionizing. It prevents UNC employees (excluding, ironically, those private employees in outsourced services, such as Aramak employees) from unionizing. It is part of the reason we have an Employees Forum for airing grievances to the administration, as opposed to an employees union. So when you suggest that there are no longer any Jim Crow laws preventing public employees from entering into the kinds of contracts they want, you are incorrect. They have possibly secured the best contract that they could individually. But if they wanted to bargain collectively, then they clearly could not freely enter into the contract that they wanted. They are clearly prevented, in that case, from doing just the thing that they want to do.
The question here is whether or not people have the right to collectively bargain. You probably think not (though I admittedly could be wrong). I certainly think so. So do most interpretations of the First Amendment. And if American law doesn't satisfy you, the U.N. has specifically condemned North Carolina for denying its public employees the legally recognized human right to collectively bargain.