At the beginning of the semester, six Reed College students working in Grounds Maintenance found out that their job positions had been eliminated and they were no longer employed at the college, a change that was not previously communicated to them by their employers. The students only discovered this after reaching out to Zachariah Perry, the Grounds Operations Manager, to inquire about scheduling for the next semester. The student workers — the majority of whom were on Federal Work-Study, and depended financially on their campus jobs — expressed frustration that their positions were eliminated and their employment ended without notice.
Student workers were concerned by a larger shift in workplace culture they had observed over the past few years, exacerbated by the departure of recent staff. Previously, students worked, with the tutelage of supervisors, in specific areas of the campus, tending to the needs of their area in a largely self-directed manner. Instead of working under Grounds specialists, they are now to work under Perry, who organizes work from a managerial role. Under this new system, students would work across the whole campus and be moved around from place to place to do the specific tasks demanded of them. This change worried several members of the student Grounds Crew, who stressed the importance of cultivating a relationship with the land and having a connection to the work they do, arguing that new changes undermined the pedagogical mission of the workplace, and would destroy its status as a place for learning and growth.
Multiple students commented that they feared that these changes would lead to them being controlled, micromanaged, and alienated — and, indeed, a student who had worked this past summer echoed those worries in recounting their experience. Dylan Carlson, a former staff member, alongside three anonymous student workers, reported that Mr. Perry had repeatedly referred to student workers as “tools” or as “resources to take advantage of.” The students claimed that these phrases represented Mr. Perry’s exact words, although the Quest has not been able to independently confirm this. Zachariah Perry was reached out to for comment on the situation, but the Quest did not receive a response.
Reports of this pattern of treatment extended not only to the student workers but also the permanent staff members, who also felt that autonomy and power within their roles were being stripped from them and that their expertise was disparaged — a shift mirrored by their change in title from “specialists” to “technicians” and a lowered pay-scale.
Dylan Carlson, who identifies as Hopi, also claimed that meetings had been referred to as “powwows” on “numerous occasions,” although the Quest has not been able to independently confirm this. According to Carlson, he then reached out to HR and management multiple times and stated in an interview with the Quest that he received no real acknowledgment of or apologies for these comments. Instead, he said, he was initially invalidated and blamed for “not getting over it,” and further attempts to receive redress were met with no response. All of the aforementioned factors contributed to Carlson’s departure from the college alongside one other Grounds Crew member who the Quest was unable to contact, both of whom now hold unionized positions at Lewis and Clark College — where they make five dollars an hour more than at Reed, a 23% pay increase.
Former and current Grounds Crew members also felt that they experienced targeted attempts to weaken their union, both through punitive union retaliation from upper management, and attempts by the Reed Administration, particularly the new Human Resources Department, to draw out the negotiation of the contract, extending the time that the union members were not under the protection of it. Employees reported frustration over short, inconvenient meetings being scheduled several weeks apart, making progress extremely slow. “There have been numerous union attempts in my [many] years here,” said a current Grounds Crew staff member, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “They have failed due to the college’s resistance for sure,” they continued, “I think that the Reed administration on the highest level is about two things: money and power.”
Crew members reported increased scrutiny, reduced autonomy and power, disciplinarian tactics, and aggression, which they claimed produced a “very uncomfortable environment to work in.” Multiple staff members also spoke of increased encroachment from external contractors and a growing perception that Facilities Services intended to offshore their jobs to contracting businesses, to whom they “would not have to pay benefits.”
Other grievances about the workplace environment were also raised; Tori Boldt ‘24, who worked in the Canyon over the summer, described the environment in recent months as “insidiously misogynistic.” She claimed, for example, that Perry had refused to give directives and information to her and her female colleague, instead forcing them to respond to their male peers. Another student reported that they were not permitted to take rest breaks on three-hour shifts, despite these breaks being mandated by both Oregon State Law and the Reed Student Worker handbook.
Additionally, student workers felt that upper management now held the Canyon to be, “a product, not a project,” claiming that the restoration goals were complete, and deeming the canyon to be a “lesser priority.” Through the elimination of the Canyon Division of Grounds Maintenance, work on the Canyon reduced significantly, despite the presence of multiple persistent problems — including the ever-looming garlic mustard, a highly destructive invasive species that smothers native flora and hurts the ecosystem. The students expressed concern about the future of the Canyon without as much time and effort dedicated to its restoration.
Altogether, the current and former workers at Grounds, both staff and students, stressed a need for change, a desire motivated by a “deep love for the campus.” Many said that they believed strongly in many of the ideas promoted by Reed’s student body, and felt the institution capitalized on them for monetary gain while not fulfilling them. They also suggested that these issues were not only present in the Facilities Department but all across the campus, from the Physical Plant to the Theatre Department. As an anonymous interviewee added, “I think it’s probably important to connect this to the greater conversation that’s going on about what an ethical institution, a business organization, actually looks like, and then what kind of management models are involved with that versus perhaps more traditional hierarchical models… This is not what we want this place to be. This is not what this place is supposed to be about.”