Protesters confront IU officials over jobs, health care

  • Sept. 19, 2013

By Jon Blau

 Opposing Indiana University’s decision to move about 50 maintenance workers to a temp agency, about the same number of students and teachers sat in the waiting area outside two vice presidents’ offices in Bryan Hall Wednesday, across the hall from President Michael McRobbie’s quarters.

 Aaron Ferguson, a senior from Noblesville, sat against a wall outside the VP offices, with an IUPD officer next to him. He held a sign that read “Welcome to Corporate U,” trying to shame his school for contracting with Manpower to get around potentially having to provide those employees with health insurance under upcoming provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which will require employers to provide coverage for people working 30 or more hours a week.

“Take the hit, if that’s what it is,” Ferguson said of providing health care to hourly workers, some of whom are being limited to 29 hours a week to keep them under the law’s definition of full-time employment.

 The protest started as a gathering of about 75 people just east of the Sample Gates, a circle of students, teachers and other Bloomington residents coming to speak about why they wanted the university to reverse the decision to send 50 employees to work under the supervision of a temp agency.

Stephanie Kane, an associate professor in the department of criminal justice, railed on the university for setting a poor example.

 “We want a place that doesn’t provide health care? You want to work for a university that takes its most vulnerable as a starting point for cutting off everybody’s health care?” Kane asked.

 “This is exactly what Obamacare was supposed to help, but, instead, we are perverting the whole attempt to get universal health care in this country.”

 The group, carrying fliers produced by IU Strike, a student advocacy group, then moved into Bryan Hall, attempting to walk en mass into McRobbie’s office before finding police had already been stationed there. The police instructed the group that the university would allow one or two representatives from the group to come in, but they were told they would have to set up an appointment to see McRobbie or the other vice presidents. If they entered individual offices, they would be arrested. That didn’t stop them from opening a couple doors and peeking in to try and find people to talk to.

 The gathering dwindled to about 25 people during the next hour, as the people who stayed behind talked or scribbled in notebooks. They continued to search for ways to convey their disapproval of IU’s treatment of the workers. They had chalked the Sample Gates with the words “Strike Against Layoffs.” Fliers were placed on a table that listed the salaries of McRobbie and head coaches for the football and basketball teams. As they left building, they banged metal kitchenware together and chanted.

 It wasn’t until they were gathered again at the Sample Gates that two representatives from the university arrived to talk to them, IU spokesman Mark Land and John Applegate, vice president for university regional affairs, planning and policy, the person whose office waiting area they had crowded.

 When Applegate said he would take questions and take any materials they had, members of the group said they didn’t need any information on the action because they already knew all about it from media reports. Instead, Mark Wagner, who said earlier he was representing two friends who had their hours reduced to 29 hours, said to Applegate, “The situation is, at some time in the next few years, there is a statistical certainty that one of these 50 people are going to get cancer,” he said, “and their blood would be on your hands.”

 “I don’t quite understand your logic for that,” Applegate replied.

 As Land and Applegate continued to listen, the group didn’t engage in a conversation as much as sound off at IU officials. Nate Alcock, a member of IU Strike, asked them what it felt like to be an “apologist” for hurting poor people. Glenn Carter, a Bloomington resident, called it an act of “bad corporate citizenship” for IU to send the 50 employees to Manpower.

 “This is simply a decision on IU’s part not to give its employees insurance and not treat them with respect. That’s the message we are trying to give you guys,” Carter said. “It’s not that we have questions we need answered, it’s that many people in the community are absolutely outraged that you would value your employees so little that you would cast them off as mere temps.”

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.