Notre Dame Worker Speaks Out!

The words of a Notre Dame Dorm Housekeeper, as told to a student member of CLAP
[more on the campaign at Notre Dame]

ND Housekeeper:
Before here, I worked in a distribution warehouse for 3 and a half years. Then I got laid off. Yeah, I liked that job: the pay was excellent and the benefits, you could say they were good. Anyway, that was a good job. I’ve worked here at Notre Dame since March, so let’s see, that’s one year. I don’t like it. I hate the pay – it’s just ridiculous. I get $9.24 per hour. That’s before taxes.

Let’s see… Last night I thought of a lot of other things I wanted to tell you…

CLAP Student:
We are talking in the dorm’s study lounge, sitting in the desk chairs. This is during her lunch break, but she doesn’t normally eat at work. She eats before and after work. We’ve known each other since the beginning of the semester. I set up the interview yesterday, and she said, “I’ll tell it like it is.”

ND Housekeeper:
Parking. Some of the housekeepers don’t have parking, so they have to walk a long way in the cold. There’s a lot of stress in general at this job. In the dorms, we work around an environment where you can catch a cold, because we are around so many students. When people get sick from being at work, this should be an excused absence. But they give you an occurrence, and this means you’re one step closer to being fired. And it takes a whole year to work off an occurrence. Like myself, I had perfect attendance since March. Then I caught a cold here, and I normally don’t get sick, so it was probably from being here in the dorm. I missed a day, and I got an occurrence. When I went to the doctor, he told me not to go to work because it was very bad. But I got another occurrence. It’s like they expect you to be God and control when you get sick or not. It’s one thing if you skip a day at work. But if you get sick because of where you work and because the environment is hazardous, this should be excused.

I started off here as a temp worker – working through a temp agency. As a temp, if you do good then they put you on-call, which was a 50-cent raise. As an on-call, you can go up to one thousand hours without being full time. If you reach one thousand hours and there’s no open jobs, they’ll fire you. I don’t want to hear, “At least you have a job.” Don’t keep people if you have the intention of letting them go. Let them go and let them find a better job where they can start building up time there. I feel like these people are being used.

The benefits. Well, my insurance is going up but my pay is the same. So actually my pay is going down. Live and let live. That should be the title of it all, for your article. I work for a University that’s well-off. Why can’t they let me live? Why can’t they pay me enough?

You know when you go to a psychiatrist’s office, and they sit you on the couch and tell you to say the first word that pops into your head. Well, for “Notre Dame” I would say “money.” Can’t you see? If you don’t bring in money, you are worthless. I’m not important to them. I can’t be seen. If I drop dead, they’ll bring somebody in to replace me. They tell me, “Just go get another job if you don’t like this one.” That’s not the point, though. Another person will come right behind me, and they’ll have to do this job and live on the wages. Even if I wasn’t still working here, I’d start something to change it.

The other housekeepers are afraid to speak out. They’re intimidated. They’re scared. “Don’t say nothing.” “You’ll lose your job.” That’s what they say. They don’t want to lose their job. “Don’t say anything.” These are the three words that housekeepers are good at saying. They’re talking about it behind people’s backs, but they won’t say nothing. I don’t care. What’s right is right. Some day there will be no Notre Dame, believe it or not. When it’s all over, people will be judged by Him. He’s gonna ask Fr. Jenkins, “What did you do as president of the company? Did you go down the line and see how people live on the wages you pay?” … But, I’ll talk to Fr. Jenkins, I’d like to tell him how I’d feel. And if he fired me on the spot, I’d say “Thank you.” I’d thank him for giving me the chance to go out and better myself – get a better job. You never know why things happen in life, maybe he was meant to fire me so I could better myself. Kind of like this – I don’t know what purpose He has for you interviewing me. … It’s hard for me to persuade the people who have been on the job longer than me because they say, “You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t have kids. I need the insurance and the health benefits.” But, what they really need is more money. Because they don’t want to lose their job, they deal with it. It hurts me because I know the meaning of life… What’s that phrase? “United we stand, divided we fall.” That’s absolutely true, but some housekeepers don’t understand it. We should fight for it as a group. And it should be us going forward with you students supporting us. I have nothing to lose. You can publish this article with my name in it and maybe it’ll make a difference. And it doesn’t bother me if I get fired the next day.

The University’s good name should be represented at all levels. The housekeepers’ jobs are just as important as the professors’. At the end of the day both of our 8 hours are gone, and we contributed in different ways. The professors have educated you guys, and we have contributed to the cleanliness. Housekeepers might be at the bottom, but the employees on every level should be content. This would be better for the whole university. It’s like a body. All the parts are different, but necessary. The professors and housekeepers are like my right and left hands. They’re different but I need them both. Or it’s like – I need my head, sure. But why would I want to damage my foot? That doesn’t make any sense. When I take care of myself, my whole body feels good. I’m part of the Notre Dame body, and I’m being affected.

The money will come back. They don’t understand that. The reciprocal of giving is receiving. They would get a lot more money from people if the whole body was being treated right. Start the workers off at 12 dollars an hour. With more incentives, there’s better, more loyal workers and a better University. A better University means the students become better people. And better people can go out and help people, and also they’ll be wealthy alums and donate. The money will come back.

You guys are great guys, but I’m not staying here. No way I’ll stay here. I’m smarter than this. It’s not an easy job – cleaning up puke, feces, blood. All kinds of body fluids smeared all over the toilet and kids don’t flush, and I have to wipe it up. No, I’m not gonna do this for $9.24 an hour.

From day one, I’ve seen a lot of Ugly. Older women out in the cold shoveling snow. They tell them, “If it’s too heavy, get another job, because this is part of your job.” Lots of people have bad backs, hips, knees from going up and down those stairs in the dorms with no elevators. They’re pushing these women. And some of them do make more than 9 dollars an hour, but that’s ‘cause they’ve been here a hundred years. This is the life of a housekeeper. I’ve only been here a year, but this is what I’ve seen and noticed.

It’s not about the money, it’s about happiness. It’s about having enough to pay your bills and a little more to live on. We are being oppressed. Oppression leads to stress, which leads to sickness. They wonder why insurance is too expensive. They wonder why they have to pay for someone’s six thousand dollar surgery. But they’re really providing the ways that we get sick and injured, and then having to pay for these. How does your body feel when you’re happy? Good. And how does your body feel when you’re unhappy? Bad. But, they don’t get that. Most people don’t know anything about Notre Dame besides recognizing the name. I wonder what they’d think if somebody told them Notre Dame oppresses people.

You have some struggling housekeepers out there. They can’t afford to go to school and get a better job. But they work for an organization that wants to represent Christ. Is Notre Dame for real or just doing it to be known as representing Christ? Notre Dame advertises one thing and does another. Christ is not cheap. For Christ, it’s not all about the money. God owns this world. He is not a God that causes oppression. He gave an opportunity to get out of oppression. Christ wasn’t afraid to open his mouth. This might be explainable in a business, but not at a Christian university that’s run by priests who have studied God for years. I’d like to ask them, “What God have you been studying?!”

I don’t know.

People look up to Notre Dame, but it could be better. This University could be the bomb.


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