For many of us as students on-campus, our interactions with the St. Mary’s community do not reach far beyond the weekend run to Sheetz or Chipotle. Despite how we may distance ourselves from our neighbors, though, their fate impacts our own. Four years ago, students banded together in recognition of this to fight for a living wage for the staff who keeps our school operating smoothly. In remarkable shows of support for these community members, students marched and staged a sit-in of the president’s office to demand that they be paid enough money to support themselves and their families.
An alum who was caught up in the whirlwind of these protests now finds himself a part of another similar situation in our community. Eric Schlein (‘08), a representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400, is working with employees of the Chesapeake Shores Nursing Home. Since 1998, the employees at this Lexington Park facility have been embroiled in a bitter fight against the company for better wages, improved health care coverage, and more employee rights. Currently, a full-time worker who may take care of the dietary, housekeeping, or laundry needs of the elderly residents makes up to $18,345 every year on average. The nursing aides at the facility, a position that requires increased training, make up to $25,290 every year on average.
However, $18,462 are needed per year to live as a single adult in St. Mary’s county, and $34,317 are needed if the adult is the caretaker of a child (found on the Pennsylvania State University Living Wage Calculator). These positions barely cover the expenses of a single adult, and are absolutely inadequate for a single parent or guardian. It is outrageous to know that these people, who have devoted their lives to caring for our community’s elderly, are not even paid enough to take care of themselves.
For twelve years the union of employees at Chesapeake Shores has been struggling to reach an agreement with the company, but again and again they are blocked by its unfair labor practices and refusals to bargain. As fellow members of the St. Mary’s community, we can help these people gain the rights they deserve. Students can rally behind these employees and give them the support they need to boost their fight. Plus, we can do our part to support the Employee Free Choice Act currently on the desks of our federal legislators. This act would enforce policies that would strengthen unions and increase their abilities to gain basic rights and respect for employees. We must recognize the potential we have to effect positive change in our community, and act to improve the welfare of our neighbors.
Submitted by Emily Saari, Class of ‘11