Rayner: Now's a good time to endow Bennington College workers
The SEIU Local 200 union of Bennington College campus workers in housekeeping, dining services, and buildings and grounds will soon begin salary and benefits negotiations. Before they begin, the Student Union held a speak-out town hall on behalf of the workers on Wednesday, April 17. Judging from the responsive overflow crowd of students and some community members, support for the workers is vigorous.
This comes on the news that Mariko Silver, president of the college, has resigned to take a new job in July, and Isabel Roche, now-provost and academic dean, will serve as interim president during the search for a new president.
Several of the workers said they were long-time employees, some for over 30 years. All of them said they stayed with the college because of their love for the students.
Many also said they had at least one other job, and others had more, just to make ends meet, support and feed their children, pay their deductibles and other medical bills. I was stunned. As wealthy as Bennington College is, this is unacceptable!
At this time of transition, then, I propose the Board of Trustees establish a new endowment fund: the Campus Workers' Living Wage and Health Insurance Endowment Fund.
According to Jim Therrien's article in the Bennington Banner "Bennington College president steps down" (April 23), Mariko Silver is "proud of the fund-raising work the college has done to place it on a firm financial footing and expand educational programming."
Therrien reports that Board of Trustees chairman Alan Kornberg wrote that Silver established "creative new funding models and partnerships record student enrollment [and] has raised the profile and long-term sustainability of the college immeasurably."
The same article notes that incoming interim president Isabel Roche has "secured multiple multimillion-dollar gifts from major individual and institutional supporters of the college."
Right after the recent fire at the Barn on campus, Dean Roche thanked the firefighters, law enforcement, and first responders who helped extinguish the fire, saying "they are our neighbors and friends" (Banner, May 2). The campus workers are, too! They are just as responsible for the school's well-being. If they weren't there, essentially as daily first responders, there would be no students, no stellar global reputation, no college.
An endowment fund that benefits workers is a creative way to acknowledge those who make life on campus possible. SVC workers don't have this chance. Bennington College can't afford NOT to do it.
Genie Rayner lives in Bennington.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.