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Social justice, just not for student workers

By Zach Phil Schwartz

Section: Opinions

March 20, 2015

Many students have noticed that Chum’s has closed. Recently, the staff took to Facebook to tell us what exactly was going on. According to the statement, on March 6, Public Safety shut down Cholmondeley’s Coffee House after its fire alarm was set off and the location was not evacuated properly. Some non-staff students had apparently been smoking in the back of the popular student venue, prompting Public Safety’s arrival and subsequent shutdown of the establishment. The Chum’s staff attempted to get in contact with university authorities, to no fruition. Soon after, all 13 staff members—students—were fired from their posts at Cholmondeley’s. Most of these staff members, some of whom were recently hired, were not at the coffee house at the time of the incident. The university was wrong to fire these student workers, especially given that only two of them were on duty at the time.

The punishment enforced on the staff did not even remotely fit the infraction. Non-staff students that had been smoking set off the fire alarm, not the staff. It’s true the two staff members on duty did not handle the evacuation properly; the former staff admit to that. Perhaps these two staff members deserved reprimanding or maybe even retraining, but in no way did the actions of a few smokers and a lapse in judgment of a few workers justify the obliteration of the entire staff.

Since the statement, there’s been an outcry on behalf of the staff from students all around campus. The unjustness of the mass layoff resounded through overwhelming student support for the staff, and out of this support emerged a campaign to save Chums. Although it has not closed, the staff and student body are treating the issue as though if the coffee house is revived without the current staff, it will be but a shell of its former glory. And they are right in doing so.

The university has clearly turned a blind eye to the needs of student workers and, to be honest, fair judgment. Many student workers need their jobs. Now, 13 are out of work and out of pay. They’ll need to reapply for a position as a new Chum’s staff or for a position in some other area on campus. However, that takes time and, for the fired staff, lost paychecks. In firing all 13 staff members, the university shows that it does not care for the average student worker.

For the party responsible for the mass layoff, it was obviously best to reboot the coffee house with a clean slate, like wiping a hard drive. A clean slate offers fresh faces and fresh opportunities, but things get mucky when this is done with real people. Humans are not bytes; they won’t just disappear when someone decides to reboot a system. This is the problem at hand: the university manages on a macro level in the context of student workers. Rebooting the Chum’s coffee house is a macro-level decision. What the university needs to do is operate on a micro level, taking the workers’ needs and opinions into account when making decisions.

If the party responsible for the firings had been operating in a micro level, it would’ve done more to find out what happened from all sides of the situation. This is the optimal course of action when trying to figure out what happened in any case, not just with Chum’s. First, the staff on duty should’ve been in contact with relevant authorities to explain their side of the situation, as the staff tried to do to no avail. In the worst of situations, the relevant authorities could’ve punished the two workers and had the entire staff train (or retrain) in fire safety. This course of action would not have resulted in any layoffs and outcry.

My message here is simple: It’s not too late. The university can still have a change of heart and rehire the entire staff. It could still force fire training unto the entirety of the staff in order to make sure such a situation does not occur again. It could think of the 13 jobs they took away from the students who give it thousands upon thousands of dollars per semester and reconsider the unjustified firing and anguish that ensued. I urge everyone reading this to find a way to persuade the university to reconsider.

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