2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Illustration by Tricia Lim

Letter to the Editor: Cuts to caretaking staff threaten the backbone of the campus community

In the most recent round of budget cuts at the University of Calgary, the administration decided to reduce caretaking shifts from four down to two.

This comes after three consecutive years of cuts to caretaking staff, including the abolishment of more than 40 positions and a removal of an overnight shift last year. This drastic change in shifts was done so that the university would no longer have to pay an additional premium of $2.50 per hour on top of their already low salaries.

The new shifts are happening during peak times of classes. Students, faculty and staff alike will face difficulty moving around campus as caretakers try to clean our classrooms and corridors.

Caretakers are the cleaning staff at the university, who clean thousands of square footage of campus facilities. They are also the lowest paid staff on campus. It is no coincidence that the majority of caretakers are people of colour, women, newcomers to Canada and of lower income status.

They rely on second jobs as their university job does not pay them enough. Many are being forced to choose between two jobs as the new shift times cannot accommodate both. Additionally, many caretakers commute by public transit and will have to commute at dawn or the dead of night, leaving many female workers worried about their safety as they travel alone.

But caretakers aren’t taking this change quietly. For the first time ever at an Albertan university, dozens of caretakers rallied in front of the administration building to protest the shift changes and a demand for respect and equity. They wore purple in solidarity with one another and chanted slogans to demonstrate their unity. Emails from supporters went out to university President Ed McCauley demanding the reversal of the shift changes so caretakers could go back to premium-paying shifts.

In response to the backlash, McCauley sent out an email stating that without the shift changes they would have been “forced to eliminate six positions.” It brings to question why a $1.4 billion institution could only come up with two solutions — job losses or shift changes — both of which would bring devastating impacts on its marginalized staff. 

Meanwhile, jobs are being lost as caretakers are forced to quit the university or a second job because of the shift changes.

The president also claimed that “the University is committed to an equitable and inclusive campus for all who work at our university.”

The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity defines inclusion as “a sense of belonging for members of historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups in all aspects of life” and compels the university to take “proactive measures to transform cultures and relations of power and privilege, resulting in the social exclusion of under-represented groups.”

Seemingly, this is the population that would need inclusivity the most in times of austerity. But the university failed to take this into consideration when they made these cuts.

As historically under-represented groups of workers, caretakers do not see the shift changes implemented in the name of inclusivity. Their lives will be fundamentally changed by a top-down measure to rid them of the little wages they receive at the university. There are no proactive measures to transform cultures and relations of power and privilege, but rather the maintenance of the status quo where they remain at the bottom of the university hierarchy.

I showed many caretakers President McCauley’s disappointing response. As one caretaker told me, his response does not give any hope. Hope is what inclusivity demands -— hope for a better future. Any proactive measure would demand the university administration of actions that moved beyond the logics of austerity and implement inclusivity in practice, not just lip service.

While the administration is currently not demonstrating its principles of inclusivity, that does not preclude the rest of the university community from doing so. 

If you see a caretaker in red and purple, thank them for their service. Write an email to President McCauley and insist that caretakers get their shifts back.

If the university responds with a template email saying that this was done to protect jobs, push back against their rhetoric and demand more. Show up to our rally on Thursday, April 7, at noon in the Main Quad and use social media to raise awareness on the issue. Use the hashtag #SupportUCalgaryCaretakers. After all, it is the staff, students and faculty who make up the university and the power to determine what inclusivity looks like on campus is ultimately up to us.

—Prachi Mishra, Vice Chair, AUPE Local 52. AUPE Local 52 is the support staff union at the University of Calgary, representing over 4,000 workers.

Letters to the Editor published in the Gauntlet do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board. The Gauntlet retains the right to edit submissions for brevity and clarity.

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet