At the Rock, commotion over layoffs

Student Labor Alliance members, students, and alumni as well as Dining Services and libraries workers and organizers from the international labor group Unite Here gathered on the steps outside the Rockefeller Library today for a rally against the 60 staff layoffs the University announced in March.

Peter Asen '04, a professional organizer at Ocean State Action, at one point aimed a megaphone up at the stacks in the Rock.

The ralliers were upset with the way in which the layoffs were carried out, arguing that they were done in secret so that the University could not be held accountable for its decisions.

Associate Professor of History Naoko Shibusawa expressed concern that the staff layoffs would put an increased burden on faculty.

Labor advocates were relieved last week to hear that Swearer Center Program Manager Janet Isserlis, one of the 60 who was to be laid off in June, would continue working there. The announcement came after an outpouring of support for Isserlis’ work from the community, students, and alumni in letters to administrators.

SLA member Haley Kossek ’13 told the crowd that though administrators have said the cuts are final, activists “can fight back, regardless of this language of inevitability,” commenting that the University used similar language in the Brown Dining Services negotiations, but ultimately budged on its position then like it did last week with Isserlis’ position.

After the rally, which lasted about 45 minutes, a large group marched around the Main Green to University Hall, where they met with a Brown University Police officer waiting to escort a handful of students around the building. They delivered petitions to administrators including the offices of the President Ruth Simmons and Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98, and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Beppie Huidekoper herself.

Megaphones in hand, ralliers march to University Hall.

The rally — advertised largely by means of a Facebook event — was well attended. To find out more on reactions to the layoffs, visit SLA’s Facebook group about the layoffs.

Students rally against layoffs outside the Rock.


  1. AB'11

    Why doesn’t Brown cut a few athletic teams before laying off academic support staff? At an institution such as ours, scholarship and service must always come first; athletics, while valuable, should remain secondary in tough times.

  2. J.J.A

    The Rock was overstaffed to begin with. To argue that the U shouldn’t save money by replacing full time staff with students to save money is rather illogical. While it sucks for those that lose their jobs (and Brown is giving them generous severance packages), if Brown’s criteria were only to be the welfare of people it can directly affect, then it ought to shut down and donate all its money to RI charities.

    Also, a lot of the jobs lost at the Rock were full time reshelving positions. No one should do that type of work full time. There are well-documented work-induced injuries from reshelving books for 30 years. Let kids do it.

  3. Karen

    JJA’s comments include several inaccuracies. 14 union jobs are slated for elimination, most achieved through voluntary retirements. (3 non-union employees were laid off but all but one non-union job will be refilled or “repurposed”) Instead of students replacing staff, the proposal includes outsourcing of work. The union is hoping to preserve work in-house and ensure that anyone whose job is eliminated will have another position.

  4. AM

    Thanks to all who participated yesterday. I’m lucky to be keeping my job at Brown, but to me and a lot of my colleagues, the layoffs just don’t make sense. We’re scheduled to get cost of living raises this year (we didn’t last year), and that’s nice, but I’d happily give up my 2%-3% if it meant someone kept their job. Staff Development Day is going on as planned – again, it’s a nice diversion, but seems like the perfect thing to cut, at least for the near future, if money’s so tight that people are losing their jobs. Yes, the severance packages are generous, but where is that money coming from? And the University \allowing\ the laid-off employees to apply for newly-created positions is just insulting. The layoffs seem merely like a misguided way for the administration to look responsible in the eyes of the Corporation. A lot of us left better-paying jobs in the private sector to get away from this kind of nonsense.

    Something a lot of students may not know is that when you’re hired at Brown, in your orientation an HR rep proudly tells you that so many people want to work here that you have a better chance of getting in as a student than being hired as an employee, that scores of applications are received for every open position. On the surface it sounds like congratulations, but the subtext is that we’re expendable.

  5. Sarah

    Another fun detail about the layoffs in terms of community impact beyond Brown itself is that it means up to 60 more people will collect unemployment benefits in a state already overwhelmed with similar claims. RI has the 3rd-highest unemployment rate in the country. Most of those let go by Brown through early retirements and layoffs were 50 and older and may struggle for years to get a comparable job in the state. The ripple effect on families (foreclosures, anyone? pulling children of laid off staff members out of college? end of health insurance and pension plan?) and communities is painful.

  6. J.J.A

    Thanks for the stats ^

    Sarah, by that logic shouldn’t as many people as Brown can afford be hired even if it doesn’t need new employees? In fact, since the economy is bad shouldn’t Brown just spend its endowment in true Keynesian fashion? My point isn’t that I’m an uncaring asshole, just that this becomes a slipper slope.

    Also, why not avoid the issue of hiring non-union full time employees and employ Brown students? Competition for on-campus jobs is tight!
    Also, the COLA adjustments were partially intended to avoid losing top faculty and staff–it seems that a vote might have been held on it, though.

  7. Karen

    There are plenty of students working in the library, but the university has agreed not to use students to erode the bargaining unit, which would clearly be the case if jobs are eliminated and employees replaced with students.

  8. Andrew

    AB: The purpose of a university such as brown is to educate and provide an experience for students, not jobs.

    AM: COLAs are negotiated in the contracts, for unions and possibly non-union jobs. While it is generous that you’d give up your COLA to keep someone’s positions, I’ll be able to find you five that wouldn’t. The university cannot just go around and renegotiate everyone’s contract. Negotiating with the union would take a long time, and they’d have to renegotiate with all of the non-unions. The money for severance packages comes from Brown’s belief that the severance packages will cost less than the service provided by the employee minus the amount spent on the employee.

  9. Russell

    Shelvers do more than just reshelve books, we take pride in helping out students in any way we can , students work with staff are a great help, but to say they could replace staff is just someone who has never done this work. so get the facts before you make a fool out of yourself.

  10. AB'11

    Andrew: I completely agree. The central purpose of Brown is to educate, and this purpose is better supported by library staff than by the athletic department.

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