About three dozen students and faculty gathered on a finals week morning to display signs along Earlham College’s U.S. 40 entrance and walk a lap around administrators’ offices, showing concern about labor conditions for some of the campus’ lowest-paid workers.

Earlham outsourced its housekeeping and facilities a few years earlier. It began contracting with National Management Resources in 2020 for both departments.

Ryan Murphy, who has taught history at Earlham for 10 years and is a former Association of Flight Attendants union officer, was among those showing solidarity with the workers. 

The associate professor, whose courses include labor history, describes NMR as a “low-wage labor broker.” He said outsourcing greatly reduced Earlham’s costs for employee health insurance but resulted in those workers having higher out-of-pocket costs and lesser-quality coverage.

Students and EC employees have been advocating for better pay and insurance in recent years for those workers, but a recent flare-up came after a seven-year campus worker was terminated via text message for unknown reasons, Murphy said. 

Murphy said the protesters believe workers deserve a fair process and they thought it was important for even a small group to make a visible stand before graduation.

If workers are disciplined, they should receive a written report and a face-to-face discussion with their manager, and if termination is necessary, evidence should be provided, he said. 

Earlham has power as the customer for basic labor standards to be enforced, or Murphy said administrators can find another service provider.

As workers and students arrived on campus May 10, protesters distributed flyers advocating for calls to Earlham President Anne Houtman with three demands. They urge a fair discipline process in writing, rehiring any worker fired unfairly and making a public commitment to including NMR workers in campus life. 

Before wrapping up, the group made a lap around Carpenter Hall, chanting “Fair employment for good,” referencing the “For Good” phrase Earlham uses in promoting its programs. 

Houtman was in Indianapolis for meetings that morning, but shared a statement with WWN about the protest.

“I am aware of the facts of the case, which unfortunately we cannot share as this is a sensitive personnel matter,” Houtman said. “NMR made the right decision to protect our community values. I am confident that NMR’s employment processes are fair and reflect Earlham’s commitment to respect for persons.” 

The rally was organized by Meryl Pawlick, a junior majoring in sociology and anthropology from Bozeman, Montana. Pawlick is co-convenor of EC for Fair Labor, a student group working for labor justice. 

Pawlick said campus officials might not realize that students care about campus workers and consider them an essential part of EC’s community. Those gathered wanted to return the same care shown daily for them, Pawlick said.

“Without them, our school wouldn’t function, and so it’s important to recognize the people who are most fundamental to Earlham,” Pawlick said. 

Share this:

A version of this article appeared in the May 17 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.