Mailroom Workers Demand End to Toxic Work Environment
On Thursday, October 7, at 11:15 a.m., mailroom workers organizing with UGSDW delivered a set of demands to supervisors Kim Hegg and Payton Ronfeldt. They are demanding the supervisors cease making racist comments and misgendering workers, which has created a hostile work environment with few protections for workers. They are also demanding a wage increase to $10 an hour, a point system to prevent unjustified firing, and more changes that would protect mailroom workers and improve conditions at the workplace. More information on the workers’ demands can be found below.
These demands come after weeks of organizing by mailroom workers. Workers have expressed disapproval of many mailroom policies for years, including a pay disparity between cashiers and all other workers. Cashiers are selected solely by supervisors, and receive 51 cents more per hour than package handlers despite performing similar work. Multiple package handlers with more experience have trained newly hired cashiers but continue to make a lower wage.
Kim Hegg and Payton Ronfeldt have consistently misgendered transgender workers in the mailroom, refusing to even attempt to respect their identities, leaving transgender workers and ally coworkers feeling unsafe to correct them. They have misgendered workers immediately after being informed of the worker’s pronouns. They have also repeatedly called workers by the wrong name, including on the schedule, and delayed updating names of transgender students.
Several workers have also reported instances of prejudice towards students’ countries of origin and race. Workers also expressed that Hegg and Ronfeldt have long made passive-aggressive comments to student workers. Without adequate protections against unfair firing, workers have felt unsafe bringing complaints directly to the supervisors.
The following are a selection of testimonials from student workers:
One worker said that Kim Hegg made a comment towards a Black student worker, using the phrase “people like you” to refer to their race.
Another worker noted that Hegg and Ronfeldt made open sexual comments about a student, using the word “package” as a sexual innuendo.
Other workers have noted that Kim Hegg has also expressed annoyance in regards to Asian students and the fact that many of them opt to go by more than one name, making comments about this on several occasions.
One worker quoted Kim Hegg as saying that “I know it’s so hard for you to get out of bed to work in the morning.”
Earlier this year, mailroom workers delivered a set of demands in response to inadequate COVID-19 protections. Feeling unsafe in their work environment, their demands included proper use of PPE in the mail room, fair wages to mitigate supervisor bias, and paid COVID-19 leave, among others. These demands were meant to address negligence from Kim Hegg and Payton Ronfeldt surrounding COVID protocol. Hegg and Ronfeldt had said at the time that workers were “young and healthy” and therefore would not be in danger if they contracted the virus. They repeated on multiple occasions a line about COVID-19 being “no worse than the flu.” In response to these demands, the College agreed to five of the eight demands, implementing safety procedures that had not been previously followed despite complaints from student workers. Ronfeldt has continued not to wear a mask in spaces with student workers.
The mailroom supervisors only took adequate precautions against COVID-19 after collective action from student workers. As the experience of mailroom workers in the spring and now in the fall has shown, workers can’t rely on their bosses to have their best interests in mind. Through collective action, workers can fight for and win real improvements on the job. UGSDW reiterates its commitment to support all student workers at Grinnell. We encourage any workers with concerns about their working conditions to reach out for support organizing with their co-workers for collective action.
Read the mailroom workers’ full list of demands here:
- All mailroom workers should be paid $10.00 an hour, with no disparity between cashiers/non-cashiers.
- The mailroom should implement a point system for students and abandon the current policy of firing workers at will.
- Mailroom supervisors must cease misgendering students workers. Mailroom student workers should also be referred to by their preferred names. Supervisors should provide all student workers with name tags that include an option for students to express their pronouns.
- Mailroom supervisors should cease to make comments about Grinnell College students, mailroom student workers, delivery service workers, etc. on the basis of appearance, sexual identity, gender, or anything not pertinent to the functioning of the mailroom. This includes comments based in racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and more.
- Shift leaders and cashiers are selected based on a vote by mailroom workers and not by the mailroom supervisors who tend to favor particular student workers based on their identity.
- Workers will have paid sick leave that covers their wages if they get sick and either must stay in isolation, or are unable to attend work. This includes contraction of COVID-19, as well as other illnesses such as strep throat or the common cold.
- Mailroom workers should have autonomy over when they work during a given week. Shift times should not be chosen by mailroom supervisors. A formal scheduling process should be implemented to allow mailroom student workers to schedule their own shifts without facing pressure or retribution from supervisors.
- Mailroom supervisors should cease to make comments to student mailroom workers that criticize the work ethic and behavior of other workers.
- When not in a room behind a closed door, supervisors must be required to wear masks at all times.