Staff Editorial: Desk receptionists’ demands for improved working conditions deserve response
The University must engage with its employees
Thirty-seven American University desk receptionists sent a letter to administration on Oct. 11 and joined a growing group of campus employees asking the University for better working conditions. The demands, from reinstating a pay differential for night shifts to adequately staffing each shift, are basic requests to which the University responded several days later by scheduling open forums. The lack of communication from the University at multiple points in this issue is frustrating and perplexing as students are left to deal with the consequences of the University's inadequacy.
The letter lists reinstating $18 per hour rates for night shifts as a main point. The University commented that $18 per hour for night shifts was paid when AU was offering limited housing due to COVID-19, but what justification is there for having it taken away? Desk receptionists are still working very late hours and, according to the letter, are being asked to take on shifts unfilled by other desk receptionists and Housing and Residence Life administrators.
These night shifts are not just inconvenient; according to the letter, multiple female desk receptionists were followed by a man in a car while walking home from work after a night shift. The increased risk must be addressed by the University, on one hand to increase compensation but on the other to put measures in place to ensure the safety of all workers. If the University is going to require student employees to work these difficult hours, it must meet the responsibility of ensuring students’ safety while traveling to and from work. It is unacceptable that students were deterred from using the University's safe walk program when it exists to ensure students’ security.
In addition to a change in pay differential for night hours, desk receptionists are not offered any incentive for required work during breaks. Yes, these are university employees, but they are also students. If they are required to give up much needed time for rest and time to visit friends and family, the University should be compensating them for that added inconvenience.
First and foremost, we are here at AU as students. The University should consider this when structuring hours and pay. HRL should not depend on desk receptionists or RAs to make up for disorganization.
The University’s directive discouraging desk receptionists from speaking with media organizations is indicative of an institution choosing to turn a blind eye to the struggles of its employees. Once again, it is incumbent upon AU’s employees to advocate for fair working conditions. Talon Hyatt’s and Gavin Meyer’s decisions to speak to The Eagle came after an email designed to keep desk receptionists from sharing their concerns with the wider AU community.
What this shows is that the University would rather not get its hands dirty by acknowledging the issues raised in the letter. It took several days for the University to reach out and schedule a forum for discussion, despite having received concrete demands in the letter. The desk receptionists deserve a response. The University must, at the very least, engage with the people trying to push it to be better.