The union representing Ohio University janitorial, groundskeeping and food service employees, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1699, held a rally Friday to demand OU rescind the 20% budget cut of its staff that occurred in 2020.
Employees, union leaders, student leaders, political leaders and supporters gathered at the gateway of College Green on the corner of Court St. and Union St. from 3 p.m to 5 p.m. Union leaders and members demonstrated their desire for OU to restore nearly 100 positions lost from the cuts.
“Employees are trying to bring attention to the fact that they do not have the staffing levels they need to provide the safe, clean, and supportive environment the community deserves, especially in the face of record enrollment at the university,” AFSCME Local 1699 said in a press release.
A crowd gathered to listen to leaders and members speak while others with the union talked with community members and supportive OU students. Many were given a flier with a QR code on it, which gave access to a petition to rescind the budget cuts.
Betty Emmert, a custodian at OU and union member for 15 years, said conditions for workers have never been so bad. Emmert said that before the budget cuts happened a couple of years ago, she was responsible for cleaning one building. Now, she is responsible for three buildings, which account for over 50,000 square feet.
Emmert said she does not believe buildings are safe and sterilized. She said the layoffs happened before the COVID-19 pandemic and custodians were supposed to do extra cleaning to sterilize against the disease but could not because of the decrease in staff.
"When I first started working here, 21 years ago, I started in the kitchen, and … in the little lobby before you went in for your interview, there was a sign on the door that said, 'the students are not the interruption to our business, but the reason for it,'" Dan Maccabee, an OU groundskeeper and union member, said. "Unfortunately, I believe the new administration has forgotten that and they don't seem to really think about the students first and foremost, which should be the top of the priority."
Maccabee said he knows students are unhappy with the amount of work the facility employees can do. He said students are upset that they may have mold in their shower, not have a good selection of the food they "pay way too much for," or might end up stepping in a hole that could have been repaired if they had enough staff.
"That's not our fault, please understand that," Maccabee said. "We love you guys and we want you to get the care that you deserve, that you pay for, that you should have every single day."
Maccabee said he knows some people who were laid off, some of them with families, and it hurts his heart to see them struggle.
Neil Fowler, a facilities management employee at OU and union member, spoke out against the university. Multiple times during his speech he said, "the people of this university don't give a damn about its employees."
Fowler said the starting wages for some positions at the university are at the federal poverty level.
"I don't know if they're proud about it but they're not ashamed enough of it to do anything about it," Fowler said.
Fowler explained how low wages are harmful to the Athens community. Some university employees have trouble raising children and some are raising grandchildren. Fowler said how it also hurts local business owners because they do not have money to spend at their stores.
"We hope that the university will think about these things and will start to give a damn about somebody other than themselves," Fowler said