Students Picket for the Workers’ Right to 40-Hour Work WeekPosted: November 20, 2016
By: Mary Lister
Students from the organization S.O.A.R. (Students Organizing Against Reynolds) are back on a weekly picket at Binghamton University to demand an end to mandatory overtime, overwork and underwork more broadly. The students, along with professors and members of the wider Binghamton community, are calling on BU president Harvey Stenger to support a sweatshop-free campus and to remove Reynolds and Pactiv products from the University.
Reynolds Corporation, best known for their aluminum foil “Reynolds Wrap,” along with Pactiv (a smaller company owned by Reynolds), are known for using sweatshop practices in their factories across the country. Reynolds/ Pactiv make many of the disposable food containers used on BU’s campus and elsewhere. This includes plastic utensils, as well as cardboard cups and takeout containers. The University spends lots of money each year buying these products, and therefore supporting these companies, despite the terrible working conditions in Reynolds/ Pactiv factories. For example, workers in the Kearny, NJ plant (who were mostly minority women) were forced to work up to 84 hours per week. These terrible conditions are what led the workers at the NJ plant to ignite the call for a Reynolds Boycott, and for the right to a standard 40 hour workweek for all workers.
The issue of overwork is not limited to the Reynolds workers. Here in the Southern Tier there are plenty of workers looking for jobs, or for more hours in their part-time jobs. Currently, overworked workers like those who worked for Reynolds in NJ have NO right to refuse extra hours without the risk of being fired. If overworked workers had that right, employers would have to hire additional workers, or offer the extra hours to current employees who want more hours. This would help workers of all kinds, including those who are currently unemployed, students who are graduating and seeking jobs, overworked employees, and all others who have no control over their working hours.
Mandatory overtime, long hours (over 40 a week) which an employer can legally demand, is dangerous to workers and the general public. Long hours put workers at risk for injury and for mistakes on the job. Mistakes could be dangerous- or even deadly – for consumers. For example, if an overworked nurse in a hospital gives their patient the wrong medication, it could cause serious injury or even death.
For students, the problem of overwork and underwork is also apparent in unpaid internships. Most students know that they will have trouble finding a job after college. They know that if they want a better chance of becoming employed, they must have lots of experience before they graduate. So many students take unpaid internships while in school. On top of this, many need to work part-time in order to afford college. This means that they end up overworked, juggling internships, jobs, and classwork for four years. Even worse, since employers know they can get students to work for cheap or for free with unpaid internships, they are less likely to hire locals for these jobs. This puts locals and students into competition with each other. Each is painted as the enemy- but the real enemy is the employer!
As president of the University, Harvey Stenger has the power to influence the way that business is done in the university and in the community. Will he side with the workers, including his students, and support the right to a 40-hour workweek for all workers? Or will he allow money from students and taxpayers to continue to be funnelled into the pockets of the Reynolds’ corporation?
S.O.A.R. members will continue calling on Stenger to be accountable. But they can’t win alone! They are calling on community members, as well as all faculty, staff and students to join the picket and unite around the demand to end overwork and underwork!
Join the weekly picket, Wednesdays 2pm-4pm and Thursdays 1pm-3pm, in front of the Glenn G Bartle library at BU.
Save the date for a large event at BU on November 4th, from 12pm- 3pm, and check out the S.O.A.R. facebook page for more information! https://www.facebook.com/studentsorganizingagainstreynolds/