Diamondback Editorial: If Daycon Appeals, UMD Must Drop Contract

From The Diamondback Editorial Staff:

To many students at this university, workers’ unions are intangible organizations to be studied in a history class and only experienced through grainy, black-and-white photographs of early- to mid-century picket lines and strike breakers. Yet, while the golden age of the union has certainly set, the issue of workers’ rights has not yet been consigned to the dustbin of history. In fact, the fight has recently ensnared one of this university’s contractors.

At issue is a negotiation held April 22 between Daycon — an Upper Marlboro-based chemical and janitorial supply company that contracts with the university — and its unionized employees. When presented with their employees’ requests in a session with a federal mediator, Daycon management walked away from the bargaining table, never to return. And when 55 of their workers went on strike days later, Daycon hired new ones, subsequently refusing to return the striking workers to their jobs when asked to do so unconditionally.

Since the strike began, student groups at this university, including Feminists Without Borders and the College Park Students for a Democratic Society, have aggressively advocated for a termination of the contract between the university and the embattled company. Despite their efforts, not much has happened. University President Wallace Loh declined to take action despite writing a letter to the union and Daycon, stating “the University is committed to conducting its business operations in a way that reflects social responsibility.” James Stirling, the university’s director of procurement and supply, stated it wouldn’t be fair to make a decision either way until a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board had been made. And so, the issue reached a standstill.

That is, until one week ago, when a federal administrative law judge declared that Daycon had violated federal labor laws by walking away from negotiations with its employees’ union as well as by refusing to reinstate the striking workers. In addition, the judge, Joel P. Biblowitz, ordered Daycon to reinstate the 55 striking workers and compensate them for seven months of back pay.

Now, with a ruling made, the ball, it seems, is back in the university’s court. Will the contract be terminated? Or won’t it?

The ultimate decision should be based on Daycon’s next actions. If the company appeals the decision — as the Washington Post reported it was planning to do — then the administration should not hesitate to permanently sever ties with the company. This university, which has long committed itself to equality and fair labor practices, should not be in business with any company that refuses to acknowledge the rights of its employees or a wrongdoing declared so by federal law.

If Daycon chooses to accept the ruling, re-hire their employees and pay them the compensation they are owed, then there appears to be no reason to terminate the contract. For while the multiple violations of federal labor laws and the disenfranchisement of workers are certainly grievous offenses, every person and every company deserves a second chance. And, as SDS member Dennis Frostbutter noted, “If all the universities and businesses just cut their contracts with Daycon, long-term it would put the workers out of work, and that would just defeat the purpose of what we’ve been doing. We have to allow [Daycon] to make the right decisions so the workers can continue to work.”

  • So in the upcoming weeks, the university has a decision to make. Will it sit idly by as it as has so far, or will it petition the company and allow its position on labor practices to be known. After all, these decisions will have a deep impact not only on Daycon’s reputation, but on this university’s as well.

About the Author