Strike reaches stalemate

Campus comes to a standstill as protesters refuse to back down; negotiations fail to reach compromise
Sunday, September 18th, 2011
Massive March

Massive numbers of students marching through campus CARAVAN Staff

A day of angry discussions between students, custodial staff, security staff and administration ended with AUC President Lisa Anderson being booed away from the microphone during an open forum outside the administration building late on Thursday. Some students later took down the American flag, as well as the AUC flag, leaving only the Egyptian one up at Gate 1.

Amira Gabr, an AUC alumna, speaking to the crowd, said, "if we were disrespecting America we would have torn the flag, but we took it down and folded it respectfully. The American flag is a symbol of democracy, freedom and human rights. These values don't exist at AUC."

Angry but resilient several hundred AUCians had stormed the administration building on Wednesday, after being camped outside its walls for four consecutive days.

“Now we need to take a vote, who here supports the demands of security and workers as well?” said SU Vice-President Ahmed Ezzat to the crowd of students.

A unanimous show of hands and thundering applause erupted - a testimony to the collaborative efforts of students, security staff and custodial workers who have been on strike for more than a week. Students had been prompted to strike after the announcement of a nine percent increase in tuition fees this semester, while discontent over working conditions and inadequate salaries had been brewing amongst custodial staff and security over the past academic year. Staff’s demands include a raise in salaries for all workers, and the cancellation of a mandatory, daily one-hour work break for security personnel, for which they receive no pay.

Since few demands have been met, student leaders such as Ezzat, who played a large role in rallying students, were determined to cancel potential negotiations with senior administrators.

Meetings with representatives of each constituency in the strikes were planned for September 13, however representatives refused to meet with administration, at the advice of students. Protesters claim that by doing so, they present themselves as one coherent group with no one left behind. Instead, different groups have put together a joint list which includes all of their demands.

 

Administration: Few concessions

Addressing the main student demand of cancelling the nine percent increase in tuition fees, Vice President for Student Affairs Ashraf El Fiqi said it would most likely not be met. He stressed that the fiscal details of the budget and the financial constraints facing the University have necessitated the increase.  He also stated that these administrative aspects have been explained to the Parents’ Association and twice to the Student Union.

“The board of trustees has asked us to lower the deficit, and we cannot as a university keep running on a deficit,” he explained. This decision comes after senior administration had met with the board of trustees last Sunday.

As President Anderson continues to call on groups to send delegations to the negotiation table, protesters’ strategies to put pressure on the Administration have led to a wave of disapproval from senior administrators and faculty members.

Last week, students disrupted classes as they chanted and drummed through the buildings’ halls for others to join the strike. They have been in control of Gate 4 since Sunday, allowing students to park on campus for free.

“Some students forced their way into the university and had [an altercation] with the security staff. They didn’t want to pay the parking ticket fees so they forced their way in,” El Fiqi said.

On Monday, the Administration had announced it will file cases against students who were involved in these policy violations: “Violence of any type, especially targeted at security staff, will not be tolerated,” declared Anderson in an email sent out to the AUC community. She added that disciplinary action will be taken against students “implicated in using or threatening to use force against security personnel, blocking access to the campus, vandalizing property or disrupting classes.”

Mohamed el-Korma, one of the student leaders and a mechanical engineering major, says the Administration had contacted the Student Judicial Board to discuss disciplinary action against students. However, at the time of print, none have been filed.

 

Students defiant

In the week preceding the strike, student leaders had coordinated with the two groups to assemble a comprehensive list of demands.

Nearly 3,000 fliers and 1,000 posters were spread across AUC’s halls and corridors to advocate for the strike, and dozens of students stood outside Gate 4 last week to call on others to join the cause.

Their full-out campaign comes after negotiations between the Student Union and the Administration failed to meet all of students’ demands two weeks ago. The demand for a removal of the nine percent tuition increase and the introduction of tuition caps have yet to be met by the Administration.

Instead, President Anderson responded that administration are willing to alleviate the financial burden through the University’s financial aid system. She explained that with the current $8,000,000 deficit, the University has little option but to stand by the tuition increase. Furthermore, the Administration proposed to introduce additional payment options beginning next semester instead of tuition caps.

Senior administrators promise to uphold the freedom of expression policy while calling on students to refrain from disturbing the University’s regular operation. The protesters’ tactics of storming classes and cancelling the parking fee have been labelled unacceptable behavior by the Administration.

On Monday, Student Union President Ahmed Alaa Fayed sent an email to the AUC community shortly after President Anderson condemned students’ disruption of classes and altercation infront of Gate 4.

Fayed excused the day’s disruptions on the basis that such a large protest was difficult to control: “A strike this large, with students, (custodial) and security personnel taking part in it, is difficult to control by mere individuals, so some disruption and inconvenience might have affected some students and faculty.”

He reaffirmed that the “peaceful, civilized and legitimate” strike will continue until demands are met.

 

DDC grievances

A number of workers have been unable to obtain full-time contacts, which grant increased benefits. The Administration, however, has responded that it is typical for institutions to rely on the use of non-permanent employees when necessary.

DDC workers have also been protesting for a meal allowance of EGP 200 which, according to an email sent by President Anderson, was included in the November 2010 pay scale revision.

They also demand that weekends are to be considered days off, and a minimum wage of EGP 2,000, which is nearly EGP 800 more than their current base salary. However, President Anderson has responded that adjustments in salary are made to “reflect labor market changes.”

Antar Najeh, a DDC worker, said: “Why can’t we have the same rights as others on campus? The treatment we receive is disturbing, we are barred from going to toilets on campus, and we suffer repercussions if we do.”

The Administration has urged irrigation workers to complete the 43 working hour week requirement, noting that working on Friday is optional while working half-day on Saturday is an obligation.

DDC workers are also demanding that the Administration changes their uniforms, an issue that President Anderson claims depends on the current budget allocation. She added that by the end of the month, they will consider alternative designs.

One of the Administration’s concessions has been to include the landscape and irrigation staff bus within AUC’s administered transportation service.

 

Security

At the top of the security guards’ list of eight demands is salary increase, an issue that was negotiated to no avail with the Administration during summer. Their request to raise the level of wages from Level 2 to Level 4, the system used by human resources to determine the salary each security guard receives.

Last week, President Anderson rejected this demand, stating that Level 4 entails a minimum ten years of experience working in AUC and high performance reviews.

Workers are currently protesting a new policy that established the individual monthly overtime limit at 48 hours, as opposed to the previous 60. Anderson responded that the University is moving to ensure that overtime is paid for time actually worked, however has yet to offer a compromise that security guards would accept. Security personnel who are required to ride on bus rides and ensure security for those on them, argue that they work up to 130 hours per month.

Other demands included providing risk allowance, which touches on the medical benefits guaranteed to security guards, full-time contracts for those assigned to the security shift on buses, and the rehiring of terminated security personnel. Anderson responded by rejecting all three demands.

According to the Administration, it evaluates the risk level for each word and the market rate when determining the appropriate level of risk allowance. It furthermore stated that temporary security personnel were needed to ensure the safety of buses after the January 25 uprising, “which was deemed a necessary but additional unanticipated expense.” President Anderson added that part-time employees were hired with the understanding that their contracts would soon end.

Although many claim that Mahmoud Zouk was behind the firing of many veteran security guards, President Anderson claims that no guards' contracts have been terminated this year, but several contracts have not been renewed.Several concessions have been made recently, specifically in regards to seven cases of security guards whose promotion to Level 4 was illegitimately delayed, and another case of 20 guards on Levels 4 and 5 that were not receiving salaries that reflect their workload and level. President Anderson said it would reallocate a portion of the overtime budget to meet these demands.

Most of the security guards’ chants have called for the resignation of Mahmoud Zouk, who they claim is responsible for many of their grievances. President Anderson, however, says they refuse to discuss any senior administrator’s employment.

Security staff on strike point out that if demands are still not met, all guards on shift and off shift will strike, “we will close university gates and continue with the sit-in,” “we don’t care about cases being filed because it won’t make a difference,” adding that their lives are already at its lowest level given their current income.

They added that if worse comes to worse, they can find jobs that pay better than AUC does and so they have “nothing to lose.”

 

Custodial staff problems persist

The three points of contention between the custodial workers and the Administration are their requests for a monthly meal allowance of 200 EGP, Saturdays to be considered off, and all temporary employees to be granted full-time status.

One custodial worker said that, although President Anderson had promised a 10 percent raise in salaries starting this month, workers were at first granted 5 percent and then an additional two percent after they objected.

"Now, we are focusing on Saturday's [overtime] payment and an additional EGP 200 as a meal subsidy. We are not asking to take Saturdays for holidays, we are just demanding they be counted as overtime," one of the custodial workers at the library told The Caravan.

The Administration has responded that the meal allowance has been included in the November 2010 pay scale revision. The second demand, however, is still on the table since last year when negotiations granted the custodial staff one Saturday off per month.

Currently, the Administration is willing to negotiate an additional five-day work week in each month on the condition that not every worker will have a second Saturday off each month.

President Anderson had proposed that the second day off will be based on a rotating schedule to ensure that the University maintains the standard of custodial service on Saturdays.