Harvard dining workers made headlines this month for their 22-day strike, which forced the university to concede to their demanded $35,000 a year salary. Yet, the college’s Ivy League peer, Cornell, is receiving much less attention for its substandard treatment of workers.
Cornell dining employee wages average $16.88 an hour, much less than the $21.89 an hour that Harvard employees made before they went on strike. Additionally, Cornell dining employees say they face unfavorable working conditions: a 35-hour-per-week limit and the unavailability of work due to academic breaks limits how much a full-time employee can make. Several individuals reported earning less than $30,000 a year. Cornell dining employees also said their union warned them that a strike could lead to their dismissal.
This campus, which has closely followed the unionization efforts of graduate students, must also focus attention and support to the unioned workers already at Cornell. When Cornell dining workers are mistreated and denied the opportunity to make a living, we are hard pressed to believe the sincerity of Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings’ mantra of “One Cornell.” Speaking to the Employee Assembly on Oct. 11, Rawlings said, “It’s especially important that … we show that we are a united community, that we do have values and principles that are common to all of us that we believe in and that we exhibit. Not just talking about them but doing them.”
Undoubtedly, a value that this “unified” community guards is the fair treatment of its members; but when it comes to Cornell’s dining workers, there has been little talk and even less action. The University must make a stronger effort to provide its dining employees with a living wage that compensates for limited working hours.
The Student Assembly, University Assembly and Employee Assembly should hold the administration accountable for its treatment of Cornell dining workers. As he has repeatedly articulated in front of these shared governance institutions, Rawlings’ “One Cornell” vision includes re-examining the undergraduate curriculum and bridging the Ithaca and New York City campuses. This overlooks the very people whose labor supports students, faculty and staff in the endeavor to create a connected, learning community. “One Cornell” cannot truly be unified if it is built on the mistreatment of workers.