Speakers at a rally of about 50 people called for the recognition of women’s work and workers’ rights on March 3, International Women’s Day.
The rally took place outside the library and was organized by the Brandeis Labor Coalition (BLC). The event was co-sponsored by clubs and unions. Undergraduates, graduate students and faculty were in attendance. Eight speakers stepped up to the microphone to address the crowd. The speakers focused on women’s contribution to the workforce and the importance of unionization.
Graduate student workers are unionizing to increase advocacy and mediation, according to Anna Henkins, a graduate student working toward a Ph.D. at Brandeis. Henkins spoke about several concerns such as cost of travel and long hours. Graduate students are limited to speaking with professors within their department to handle complaints, according Henkins. She hopes that unionizing will create an outlet for complaints to be formally resolved. “A union lets us work together with Brandeis to make working conditions good enough that we can be our best self and make Brandeis its best self,” Henkins said.
Michelle Mann, another speaker, finished her Ph.D. at Brandeis and now teaches as an adjunct faculty member. “Many adjunct and contingent faculty are living on the poverty line with almost no job security, no opportunities to advance their scholarship or their careers,” she said. Brandeis adjunct faculty members teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences receive a minimum of $6,700, and graduate student instructors earn $4,900 per course each semester, according to labor organizer Jeremy Thompson.
Brandeis Faculty Forward, the non-tenured, contingent faculty union, has been collectively bargaining for higher wages. In her speech, Mann advocated for better opportunities for recent graduates and adjunct faculty members. “Brandeis and Brandeisians, now is the time for our university to make a strong statement saying that we value education, we value our faculty, we recognize their contributions and we will not rest until we achieve greater equity for all.”
Michelle and Lucia, dining services workers and stewards of the union Local 26, spoke briefly about how the union has helped them. Both have worked at Brandeis for almost 20 years. Michelle referenced that the Einstein’s workers’ hours had been cut this semester to 37.5, but thanks to the union, they got all 40 of their hours back. “The union helps us … we are so lucky,” Lucia said.
Risa Dunbar ’18, co-chair of J Street U at Brandeis, spoke to the crowd about women’s leadership regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically a group called Women Wage Peace.
“The women who make up Women Wage Peace span all sorts of political, religious, ethnic, economic and geographic spectrums,” Dunbar said. “They include religious and secular women, Jews and Arabs, right- and left-wing voters, immigrants and native-born residents, enabling the movement to advocate for peace, prosperity and self-determination for all inhabitants of the Israeli-Palestine region.”
Dunbar emphasized the importance of women organizing to bring about change. “Conflict is a women’s issue, and the women who make up Women Wage Peace exemplify the incredible power of organized women working to bring about a resolution,” she said.
Librarians also spoke about their experiences as workers at Brandeis. The management has been receptive to their ideas, according to Anne Kardos, a librarian.
The Brandeis Labor Coalition organized the majority of the event and members passed out flyers for an upcoming meeting. The club thought International Women’s Day/A Day Without a Woman would be an appropriate day to raise awareness about the economic problems unions face.
“We decided to make the intersection between women and worker something that happens together, because together we’re strong, and apart we’re separated and weak. So it’s really important for us to have the intersectionality between women and workers seen, and that women are workers and workers are women, so we thought it was a perfect day to put it on,” said Phoebe Dolan ’20, member of the Brandeis Labor Coalition.
Many attendees wore red in support of the cause and “as part of the call for action overall in the nation,” Dolan said. As part of the national A Day Without a Woman, many women chose to strike and not come to work (whether paid or unpaid) to show the value that women have to the economy. Because Brandeis could not hold an official strike due to union negotiations that some workers are engaged in, the rally was held to show the same type of support for the movement, according to Dolan.
Student-made signs declare the names of women workers of various socio-economic backgrounds in front of the Light of Reason statue.