Woods Hole to fire all housekeepers and outsource?

Woods Hole lab maintains housing for its summer staff and researchers due to its location.  For decades, there has been a staff to maintain these accommodations. In happier times as recently as Spring 2009, the staff was interviewed and accommodations for which they care listed.  

The head housekeeper was hired away from Hilton.  It is a big and complicated job

Q. What is your mission?

A. The MBL Office of Housing and Conferences maintains a variety of comfortable, attractive, and affordable housing units for students, faculty, and scientists involved in our research and educational programs. Our main mission is to maximize all of our housing options to ensure we meet the needs of our visitors and the goals of MBL.

Q. How are you getting ready for the MBL’s influx of spring and summer visitors?

A. We are processing applications, setting up rates, updating literature, and, on the housekeeping end, prepping cottages, dorms, apartments, and other housing facilities. Though there are only 800 beds available, the projected number of guests who will stay in MBL housing this spring/summer is more than 2,000! That is a lot of housing to coordinate, beds to prepare, and cars to park.

 Some of these housekeeprs have been involved in supporting the Marine Lab housing and accommodations for 25 years, and are in their sixties near retirement.  

Like the Hyattthese were long term employees, earning decent wages of $12-$20 per hour.  Woods Hole is seeking to outsource to an itinerant workforce and a company entangled in allegations of wage and hour violations.

See for example Moua v Jani-King, Snookes v. Janiking and I could go on and on.  This francised, minimum wage outfit seems to pay only minimum wages, use revolving door employees, and get in trouble for skirting wage and hour laws.  Jani-King googles as having pages of problems, frankly.

Where the sudden termination of permanent, experienced employees at Wood Hole lab is different from Hyatt, though, is that Woods Hole just received large amounts of taxpayer dollars, including 10 million in stimulus money.  

Last November, the National Institutes of Health awarded the lab $802,500 in federal stimulus funds to support the recruitment of scientists specializing in regenerative biology. The lab also recently received a $10 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to fund renovations to the center’s Loeb Laboratory.

Now, McNamara and her co-workers say the lab doesn’t deserve the money.

“(The lab) has received a lot of taxpayer stimulus money that is expected to be used to create good jobs, not destroy them,” she said.

This story deserves attention.  This trend is morally wrong, and economically harmful.  Cape Cod has a dearth of living wage jobs for ordinary people.  If the cape is not to become a land of retired wealthy people and downtrodden servants, this kind of outsourcing must not occur – and certainly not on the taxpayer’s dollar.

Already, according to the Cape Cod times as a result, there are houses going unbought, and further stories of economic hardship and decline:

Crystal Santiago was set to close on a new home with her fiance this month.

But three weeks ago the 27-year-old’s dreams were put on hold when officials from the Marine Biological Laboratory announced she – along with seven other housekeepers employed by the scientific institution – would be laid off and her job outsourced to an out-of-state cleaning corporation.

“I’m in a state of shock and this is very upsetting,” Santiago said. “There’s a spiraling effect, too, because I guess I won’t be taking advantage of the $8,000 (first-time homebuyer) tax credit now.”

The eight employees – all women who live on the Upper Cape – were given 30 days notice earlier this month, and are slated to work their last day on Feb. 6.

[Crossposted at BlueMassGroup]

To quote one of the scientists who stayed in the lab’s housing, again from the Cape Cod times:

In an e-mail obtained by the Times and also forwarded to MBL, Ernest Couch, a biology professor at Texas Christian University, said he and his family have always been well-taken care of by McNamara and her staff.

“I completely appreciate your efforts to do what is best for the MBL,” Couch wrote. “Therefore, I appeal to you to not change the housekeeping staff to a large commercial franchise,” he said.

That sentiment was mirrored by Frederick Sweet, a professor at the Washington University School of Medicine.

“It is when the chips are down that people can discover what as individuals they are made of, and also what institutions they serve are made of,” Sweet said in an e-mail to MBL.

“Therefore, I submit that how honorably the MBL deals with its long time and loyal housekeeping workers will not only determine the lives and fates of those workers and their families, but also the soul of the MBL itself.”

How many housekeeprs are involved and what did/do they do, according to the lab’s own newsletter this spring

Q. How do you turn the rooms and cottages over quickly?

A. We rely on our dedicated staff of eight year-round employees and two summer housekeepers to do the arduous job of turning over those 2,000 beds. The

10 AM check out and 2 pm check in gives us a very narrow window. Our housekeepers must work very efficiently to meet the challenge. We are proud of how well we do. Our philosophy is ‘just do it.’

Q. What is unique about MBL visitors?

A. Because students and scientists from all over the world stay here, the housing department has to be culturally sensitive and able to communicate with people for whom English is not their first language and for whom, sometimes, the American way is foreign. The staff enjoys forming friendships with people from different cultures-diversity makes our jobs more interesting.

Q. Do you get to know people over the years?

A. We enjoy repeaters-individuals and families who stay in MBL housing year after year. These repeat visitors infuse familiarity and rhythm into our jobs. We enjoy watching their families grow up, returning each year a little older. It’s fun to see children of scientists come back to the MBL to work at summer jobs.

Q, What are some of the rewards of the job?

A. The best part about working in the housing office comes when, after a long winter of planning and preparing, the busy season begins and we see the results of our hard work. It’s like working on a giant puzzle where each piece has to fit nicely in order for the next piece to lay flat. We’re happiest when all the various pieces fit and things run smoothly for our guests and for us. We are grateful when the system works. Sometimes people even send appreciation gifts like chocolates, flowers, t-shirts, baked goods, thank you notes, and did we mention CHOCOLATE?!

Q. How do you stay sane when the season is in full swing?

A. Once the summer gets rolling, there is no rest for the housing staff. The MBL is a virtual revolving door from May through September and the staff has to juggle many things beyond room assignments and changing beds, including dispensing parking stickers and visitors’ passes, fielding phone calls from lost travelers, providing information and maps about the area, directing people to local restaurants and landmarks, managing roommate problems, and harboring lost and found items.

Summers here are hectic, but fun. We try to remember to laugh a lot and to enjoy the perks of our jobs: being surrounded by the profound natural beauty of Woods Hole, being close to the Café (for coffee and company), and watching students, children, and jugglers play on the Swope lawn on summer evenings.

Where is the sense of a fiduciary responsibility to the labs, their employees, and the taxpayers who support this institution – and where is the sense of honor?

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