Students chose the first nighttime game in the New England Small College Athletics system Saturday to protest the 14-year “harassment, mistreatment and exploitation” of Wesleyan University custodians.
On Saturday, 30 activists marched through Wesleyan’s first evening football game in support of the custodial staff at Andrus field, itself historical turf, being the longest continually used ball field in U.S. collegiate history.
In a letter addressed to Wesleyan University’s President Michael Roth, a custodian wrote, “But do not mistake our roles as custodians for subservience, and do not mistake our lack of education for stupidity.”
The Wesleyan Cardinals versus Tufts University Jumbos game was the culmination of a daylong Middletown community day, which offered family friendly games and activities inside the Freeman Athletic Center. It also featured the unveiling of the newly renovated Andersen Track and turf field .
For more than a decade, students have staged protests and sit-ins to support what they and custodians call unfair working conditions. An April 2000 Hartford Courant article said one of the rallies prompted Wesleyan administrators to settle a contract dispute and create employment standards for contractors.
When the university subcontracted its cleaning services to Sun Services in April 2012, 10 workers were laid off, reducing the number of custodians from 60 to 50, protesters say, leading to an "unmanageable and arduous workload" with, in some instances, two workers charged with cleaning entire dormitories.
The protesters chanted slogans demanding dignity, justice and reasonable workloads, according to a press release from the United Student Labor Action Coalition.
Custodians have spoken out in spite of fear as positions have been cut. Workloads and manipulation have escalated since Sun Services assumed custodial management, according to the United Student Labor Action Coalition.
A recent post in the student-run blog Wesleying offered suggestions for supporting the custodians.
"Reduce your trash to lessen the custodian’s untenable workloads. When you see a custodian, express your words of gratitude. Ask them out to lunch, or join them in their break hours at 200 Church or WestCo.
"Stand in solidarity and demand that our custodians be acknowledged as members of our community. These actions may seem insignificant, but they play an important role in nurturing the custodians’ morale and happiness," Wesleying wrote.
In June, the custodians staged a demonstration, charging their employer is subjecting them to unfair hikes in responsibilities while some of their staff are being downsized. They also claimed workers are being demanded to work in high-rise dorms, while using noxious chemicals and without proper ventilation.