By Sam King
On August 28, an anonymous student on campus reached out to Facilities Operations Manager Zac Perry. This student had spent the last three years working on the Grounds Crew with a number of other students, pulling garlic mustard, trimming blackberry bushes, and raking gum tree droppings, often with another student or full-time employee. There was “a great sense of community,” said one former worker. “It was the best job on campus.”
Between academic years, rather than reapplying, workers on the Grounds Crew receive an email from their supervisor asking whether they plan to continue their employment. But the fall semester had already begun and the student had yet to receive any word from Perry. When they did eventually receive a response, he told them that they and five other students no longer had a job.
In interviews with the Quest, these student workers – who have been granted anonymity because they may reapply to their position – said their termination came as a shock. Some had been working on campus as recently as this summer, but none had been told they would soon be out of a job, and the students only learned of their unemployment after finally receiving email replies. Three of the students interviewed by the Quest used their position on the Grounds Crew to fulfill their work-study obligations and expressed frustration at the sudden loss of income.
The cause of their termination can be traced to this past summer. Dylan Carlson, who previously managed the student workers, resigned in July, citing poor pay and working conditions. The responsibility of hiring student workers then fell to Perry, his superior, who was unaware of his department’s long-standing policy of maintaining workers’ employment year to year. As a result, management removed the students from the payroll, apparently by mistake. Perry added that he was “unaware of any promises” of employment made to students. Kat Buckspan, the Student Work Coordinator, called the situation “a really unfortunate shortfall in communication.”
However, Facilities Services has outwardly denied there had been any employee turnover. When asked in an interview whether any employees had been let go, Steve Yeadon, Mr. Perry’s superior, replied with a simple “No.” When a reporter for the Quest cited one of the students who had been let go, Mr. Yeadon responded, “I don’t know why they would say that.” Then, when the reporter showed Mr. Yeadon evidence that in fact six students had been let go, he said the terminations were “really just a realignment of resources to help us get through this difficult shortage of workforce.” He was referring to the shortage caused by Carlson’s departure, as well as that of another employee, and the medical leave of a third, who broke his leg.
Yeadon also claimed that Carlson “was not a supervisor, so he never had any subordinates.” This is correct: Carlson, who now works at Lewis and Clark College, was employed as a Grounds Technician, which is not technically a managerial position. However, Mr. Carlson was still in charge of the hiring, firing, and day-to-day direction of student workers, a fact confirmed by Carlson himself, four of his former subordinates, and another current full-time employee.
When asked in a meeting with the student workers who lost their jobs — which a Quest reporter also attended — whether the students would be rehired, Perry and Buckspan made no guarantees. Buckspan insisted that rather than being rehired immediately, the students would be required to apply via Handshake, Reed’s online hiring system. “It’s an equity issue,” she said, emphasizing that all student positions are required to be posted on Handshake. However, this is at odds with the experience of one student who was hired directly by their supervisor after an interview. They found being required to reapply “incredibly insulting,” adding that, “I know more than any of the new people who have been hired about what’s been going on in the canyon, what needs to be done, how things are normally done.”
A number of the terminated employees expressed reluctance to reapply because of what they said was a hostile atmosphere. One said they were concerned the campus would suffer from the Grounds Crew’s absence. “The canyon looks like shit right now,” they said. “God, … I wish I was working right now to fix this shit.”