Student sit-in at Washington U. ends after 19 days

Sunday, April 24, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- A 19-day sit-in at Washington University ended Friday, as an elated group of students said the school is making improvements for its employees hired by outside contractors.

More than a dozen students began a sit-in April 4 at the university's undergraduate admissions office, seeking better wages and benefits for about 500 contract workers in jobs like groundskeeping and food service. A group of students also held a six-day hunger strike that ended last Saturday.

Under the new agreement, the school has pledged $500,000 in the 2005-2006 fiscal year, and another $500,000 in 2006-2007, for better salary and benefits for contract employees.

The university's vice chancellor for public affairs, Fred Volkmann, said he felt the school had been patient and had worked hard on the proposal. He said students still could face sanctions for violating the school's judicial code.

Volkman said it would have been better if students had taken a less disruptive approach, but also that the school had been committed to a resolution.

"We showed great restraint and great respect for the rights of others as an institution," he said.

The university also said it will join the Workers Rights Consortium, a group that tries to ensure that factories producing items bearing college names respect workers' rights.

It's also putting procedures in place to continue its efforts, like a team to identify resources for lower-paid service workers and a committee to review service contractor selections. The school said it will ensure that service contractors allow workers an opportunity to air grievances to an independent person.

"I feel great," said Janine Brito, 21, a marketing and international business major from Louisville, Ky. She said students hadn't gotten enough additional money to create the living wage, which they had estimated would cost $2.4 million annually. But she was convinced the school was willing to work toward it.

She said students still need to meet with administrators about any possible disciplinary action, but she hoped sanctions would be minimal. She said some protesters had dropped out of some classes, and she believed one senior protester can no longer graduate on time.

As for the weekend, "I plan to catch up on a lot of homework."

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