Such is the way life has been for Rose Hill students over the past four weeks. Those traveling to and from campus had to pass through Rose Hill’s gate under the watchful eye of the massive, inflatable rat taking up residence a few mornings a week at the corner of 191st Street and Bathgate Avenue.
The rat comes courtesy of a protest from the New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters. The Union Local is unhappy with the wages paid to carpenters by a university-hired contractor, but most students seem unaware of this.
“I honestly thought it was a Halloween thing,” said Alex DeSimine, GSB ’15, noting that the robust rodent first appeared in the weeks leading up to the holiday.
“For the first few weeks, I had no idea what it was even for,” agreed Michelle Pathe, FCRH ’15. When she finally did hear about the protest over wages, she questioned the rat’s effectiveness.
“It’s not doing too much,” Pathe said. “Inflating the rat and then not actually standing with it is very interesting.”
Confusion over the protest has been prevalent. Fordham’s satirical online news source The Ramtime Times even spoofed the phenomenon in an Oct. 18 article headlined “Activists Protest Murray-Weigel Hall’s Lack of Rat Employment, I Assume? Sorry, I Didn’t Read the Flyer.”
A member of the Local behind the protest said the lack of knowledge springs from his aversion to bothering students. “We don’t begrudge them with paperwork, you know, pushing stuff on them, or anything like that, no,” said Brian Brady, representative for the NYC District Council. “People come up and ask, we just tell them what’s going on.”
But, not many people seemed to be asking. “Fordham in the Bronx” spoke to Brady as he watched the rat from the front seat of his pickup truck parked on Bathgate. It was the fourth week of the rat’s on-again, off-again presence outside the university gates. The biting wind was making the rat dance in the wind. Despite the scene of what looked like a 15-foot tall rat trying out for a certain part in the Nutcracker ballet, not a single passer-by seemed to give it a second glance. Maybe a dozen students walked by during the course of the interview, yet not one of them stopped to ask for information or even to take a picture.
“A lot of students asked about the rat earlier,” Brady said, but just “in a very general sense,” rather than about the specifics of the labor dispute.
So what were those specifics? The NYC District Council did not respond to the request for comment, but as Brady put it, Fordham University hired a contractor, Mamais Construction, for the renovation of Faber Hall. That contractor pays carpenters $15 an hour without health benefits — well below the union rate.
“Our campaign is an area-standard issue. It’s not non-union or union,” Brady said. “We would just like to keep the standard wage for carpenters in New York City at an affordable rate.”
A sign has accompanied the rat, reading: “Fordham University, STOP FUNDING CONSTRUCTION SWEATSHOPS.” On the day of the interview, the sign was tucked away behind the rat, out of the view.
In an official university statement dated Nov. 8, Fordham said Mamais Construction won the contract in the University’s competitive bid process.
“The firm selected is a small, woman-owned business, which pays fair wages and benefits, the employees of which are drawn largely from the local community,” it read. It further noted that while Mamais is a non-union contractor, the “vast majority” of contracts typically go to union firms.
Brady said the university had not spoken to him or anybody in his office, but he expects more from the school.
“Fordham University, as an institution — they’re doing very well for themselves. Tuition is extremely high,” he said. “It’s a tremendous institution — we’re by no means trying to degrade Fordham University in that regard…[but] We think [the money] should be spread around a little better.”