WRA Creates Petition to Pay Contracted Workers During Coronavirus Pandemic


Contract workers normally rely on their direct employers for payment and benefits. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Sarah Huffman, News Editor

Workers’ Rights Advocates (WRA) and Fordham Law COVID-19 Response Coalition started a petition letter to pay contract workers, such as food services, custodial and security personnel, during the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to an email sent to the Fordham community on April 10, Fordham is paying its own full-time employees, but contracted workers are subject to their direct employers’ decisions about their employment. 

Fordham’s security workers are contracted from Summit Security, which has made no public statement about COVID-19. Food service workers are directly employed by Aramark, which has announced furloughs and work transfers, read the email. 

“The petition was started because WRA learned that Fordham was choosing to absolve itself of any responsibility to workers on campus that the university doesn’t directly employ, and was leaving all decisions to the contractors  — specifically, Aramark and Summit Security,” said Maura Moosnick, WRA board member and press contact, LAW ’21. “Aramark was starting its summer furloughs a full eight to 10 weeks early, which we felt was unacceptable for the university to allow.” 

Moosnick said contract workers are normally paid by whatever company directly employs them. 

“Fordham contracts with these companies to essentially keep our campus running without dining, catering and security staff, our campus simply wouldn’t function,” she said. 

The email attached WRA and Fordham Law COVID-19 Response Team’s full letter to the administration and a list of people who signed it. 

“We call on Fordham University to ensure that all workers on Fordham’s campuses, including security staff, custodial staff, food service staff and any other staff that work to make Fordham an excellent university, continue to receive their full paycheck and benefits no matter their status under the COVID-19 work restrictions,” read the letter. 

According to Moosnick, the letter received over 600 signatures in less than a week. The letter even received a signature from New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, Fordham LAW ’12. 

“We’ve seen a groundswell of support from the community. In addition to over 400 current students from all of our campuses and nearly all of our schools, we’ve had faculty and staff from both the undergraduate colleges and the law school, as well as numerous alumni and even parents of current students,” said Moosnick. “Despite this, the administration has been silent on the issue and has not acknowledged our communications, which is disappointing.” 

According to Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications, Fordham University would naturally prefer that its vendors retain their workforce to continue to serve the university. However, the vendors cannot be compelled to retain employees in their workforce unless their salary and benefits costs are covered by Fordham.

“The University has had to introduce significant cost-saving measures to cover increased operating and technology costs for remote instruction and staff working from home, in addition to issuing pro-rated refunds to students for room and board and certain fees,” said Howe. “Unfortunately, it would not be prudent for the University to attempt to underwrite the continued employment of its vendor’s employees given the financial strain of these unanticipated circumstances.” 

Howe referenced the fact that New York state offers unemployment benefits to the vast majority of unemployed contract workers, and under the Cares Act, unemployed workers may be eligible to receive both the usual state-provided benefit, plus an additional $600 per week (the additional $600 is not capped at the employee’s weekly earnings.) 

“(It’s an) imperfect solution,” he said. 

He said as the university understands it, most contract employees will also retain their health benefits while they are furloughed.

“In addition to the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the campus community’s physical health, it has caused a shock to the University’s finances that we are still working to contain,” said Howe. “It simply is not possible for Fordham to accept financial responsibility for its vendors’ employees.” 

Moosnick said WRA and the Fordham Law COVID-19 Response Team hopes the administration recognizes that the right thing to do here is to ensure that every worker on campus gets every dollar and every benefit that they were counting on earning through the end of the school year. 

“We know that our requests are directly in line with Fordham’s core values and mission, and we believe that Father McShane and his colleagues will also see that this is the case,” she said. 

She said WRA and the COVID-19 Response Group plan to follow up with the administration with additional, more specific suggestions in an effort to get them to engage in a dialogue with them.  

“We’re all very new to the world of virtual campaigning, so we have been in contact with campaigns at other schools to share ideas and learn what’s been effective in garnering additional support,” said Moosnick. “Our friends at United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) in Washington, D.C. have their finger on the pulse of initiatives like this and have offered to support us however they can.” 

The Fordham Law COVID-19 Response Team was spearheaded by Fordham Law School Professor Zephyr Teachout. Moosnick said Teachout sensed that students were eager to help in whatever way they could and wanted to help harness their collective efforts.  

“Although this started with students in the Public Interest Resource Center at the Law School, we are completely open to joining forces with any people or groups in the community who also want to ensure that everyone is safe, healthy and secure during this time,” said Moosnick. 

Workers’ Rights Advocates (WRA) is an existing group at Fordham Law School that seeks to raise awareness of workers’ rights and issues, as well as support community campaigns and initiatives.  

They have previously supported undergraduates at the Lincoln Center campus to help their organizing efforts. Given WRA’s collective experience and special interest in workers’ rights, Moosnick said it was natural for them to collaborate with the COVID-19 Response Team on this issue.