For the last decade, housekeepers at the University of Pennsylvania were trapped in a two-tier wage structure that kept half of them in a permanent bottom tier, earning $5 less per hour than coworkers performing the same work. In June, Philadelphia Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a Racial & Economic Justice Fund grantee, helped the 500+ housekeepers defeat the two-tier system and win raises for all 550 members of Teamsters Local 115, which also includes groundskeepers and truck drivers.
“The five-year contract puts every Teamster at UPenn on a progression to top pay,” says TDU staff organizer Liana Kallman. “This year, the first tier is making $25.12 and the second tier is at $20.90, but by the end of the contract every housekeeper will get $28.68.”
TDU is a worker-led organization that mobilizes Teamsters to fight for higher wages, build power on the job, and win new leadership and new direction for their union.
Longtime Teamster Local 115 members contacted TDU because they felt the two-tier system was destroying their union, Kallman says. TDU helped them organize the housekeepers, many of whom are East African immigrant women whose first language is not English. TDU created a bargaining survey, which was translated into Amharic and Spanish, and helped plan a rally outside the university president’s office that drew 70 workers, community members, and press.
“Housekeepers had never rallied on campus,” Kallman says. “Some of the Ethiopian women were told, ‘You’re not allowed to rally, not in your uniform. You could get fired for this.’ They were afraid, but they learned that they have power and they can win.”
TDU is currently organizing UPS workers, whose contract expires next year, staff organizer Paul Prescod says: “UPS Part timers, who are disproportionately workers of color, are in the union but it’s almost like another tier of workers—they’re paid very low, sometimes less than Amazon part timers. We want to create more full-time jobs and raise wages.”