“Frontline” unifies: Staff fights to have a voice in Suffolk community

Courtesy+of+Our+Suffolk

Courtesy of Our Suffolk

Workers across the nation are linked by unions, allowing their collective and individual voices to be heard. Suffolk University staff workers are putting forth efforts to have their voice heard through the process of forming a union of their own. Called Our Suffolk Union, the common goal is to create an environment where all voices of the university’s community are heard.

“Over the last few years in particular, there’s been a real culture of fear,” Annette Donahue, who works in the Law Support Services department at Suffolk said in an interview with The Suffolk Journal on Monday. “We’ve had long time co-workers simply disappear with no explanation. They’ve been walked out by security; laid off, dismissed.”

Suffolk alum and Senior Program Coordinator in the Political Research Center Merideth Power-Ayer said in an interview with The Journal on Monday; “A lot of staff feel like our voices are not being listened to, and even more so than that, they’re not being heard for the most part.”

Both Donahue and Power-Ayer discussed the need for staff to have a “voice,” and for the ability to feel represented in the Suffolk community. Donahue highlighted how she believes that a lot of decisions have been made from “the top down,” and are made without any input from the staff.

Donahue talked about how she has experienced two rounds of layoffs, with the first one in particular involving the use of police officers to remove people from the building. She also added that she does not want her co-workers to be afraid to show up one day and be escorted out with no warning.       

Classroom Technology and Media Specialist Jess Murphy, who has been employed by Suffolk for less than a year, commented on those who are said to have been unexpectedly laid off in an interview with The Journal on Monday.

“I don’t feel like my particular job is in jeopardy right now, but I don’t think that they did either,” she said.

Murphy also discussed the contrast of her goals and the working environment.

“We want to help the faculty give [the students] the best opportunities that you can get, but when we’re scared it’s hard to,” said Murphy. “When there’s a culture of fear, how do we tell our students it’s going to be okay? How do we tell our faculty it’s going to be okay?”

Longevity is a common issue that staff members are concerned about. Power-Ayer has been employed at the university for 11 years with four at her current position, and talked about how she feels a sense of loyalty to the school.

“I like Suffolk. I want to work here, and I want this to be someplace that I can stay,” she said. “If in the next few years we’re really not seeing the benefits that we need as employees, just to pay our bills and move forward as individuals, then I don’t know if I can stay.”

While Our Suffolk Union is not an official union yet, the members and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 888 organizing committee are hopeful to possibly move forward before this current semester is over. Meetings are held each Wednesday for supporters, with the beginning stages of collaboration dating back to the end of the 2016 spring semester. According to an interview with The Journal on Monday, former Editor-in-Chief Jeff Fish who is now an Office Coordinator in the Government department, said Our Suffolk Union is at the minimum percentage of workers required by law to file for a workers union.

Fish discussed how Our Suffolk Union is currently planning on bolstering their numbers in order to ensure a successful campaign when the organization decides to file. They are in the process of spreading the word and are filling out job support cards which go “under lock and key” to the National Labor Relations Board. This began in August according to Fish, who estimated that they have garnished the support of around 140 of these cards.

Power-Ayer is hopeful that the new Suffolk President will maintain an open dialogue and help contribute to making the school a healthy place to work. Donahue said that she loves the people she works with, and that everyone cares about the university’s mission and wants the school to be successful.

“Our broad goal is just to make Suffolk a better place to work so that it’s a better place to learn,” Murphy said.