State News

Duke won't negotiate with students until sit-in ends

Posted April 3, 2016
Updated April 4, 2016

— A student protest at Duke University continued through Monday afternoon, but Duke officials said that negotiations with students will cease until the group voluntarily leaves the building they have occupied since Friday.

Duke University President Richard Brodhead met Sunday afternoon with nine protesters in their second day occupying his office's waiting room to demand the firing of three administrators and a $15 per hour minimum wage for all campus workers.

Nine students have camped outside Brodhead's office in the Allen Building, the school's main administrative building, since Friday afternoon. The building has been closed to students and staff since then.

University officials initially told the students they could face criminal trespassing charges, academic sanctions or both if they didn't leave Sunday, Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations Michael Schoenfeld said. Officials reversed course on that threat late Sunday, saying they would not punish the students in an effort to "facilitate productive dialogue and move toward a peaceful resolution."

By Monday, officials appeared to tire of the sit-in and demanded that the students leave the Allen Building if they wish further negotiations.

"It has become clear that reaching agreement on all the remaining demands will require far more extensive conversation, likely to include other members of the Duke community, Duke spokesman Keith Lawrence said in a statement.

"The longer that building is closed down, the more people are going to be inconvenienced and the more disruptive it will be to their fellow students and to visitors and to guests and to faculty," Schoenfeld said Monday.

"The closing of the Allen Building ... for whatever reason was by Duke's administration and, in a way, served to galvanize this gathering outside as well," protester Mike DeVito said.

Monday night, students with the protest group released a statement saying that the sit-in did not need to impact use of the Allen Building as administrators and faculty members could easily access their offices and meeting space. They emphasized the fact that the group never suggested or demanded that the building be closed during the protest.

"Duke's administration is simply choosing to close the Allen Building in order to disrupt classes and cast our campaign in a negative light," the statement said. "Students are only occupying the administrative part of a single level of the Allen Building, and their presence does not disrupt classes or any other functions of the Allen Building."

Security guards have been posed at the entrance to the building as well as inside, according to protesters.

According to Duke's statement, the students have met with at least five Duke officials as well as faculty leaders during the sit-in.

Students said that although Duke administrators have met with students, they denied workers the opportunity to join in negotiaions.

Students said they were prepared to stay inside the Allen Building for as long as necessary, adding that, each time they face administrators, their answers are the same.

“[We’re] really sticking to the demands, making sure we’re emphasizing how incredibly important workers’ rights are,” said student protester Sydney Roberts.

It's been about a decade since the administration building was occupied by protesters, Schoenfeld said, but "protests at Duke are neither rare nor identical."

The administrators that protesters want fired include one top executive involved in a dispute with a parking attendant two years ago. A lawsuit filed last month by the contract traffic control officer accuses Duke Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III of using a racial slur against her.

Trask has said parking attendant Shelvia Underwood refused to let him park in his usual spot and stepped in front of his car. He denied making any racial comment.

On Monday, he issued a formal apology to Underwood.

"While the details of what happened are a matter of disagreement and subject of civil litigation, I recognize that my conduct fell short of the civility and respectful conduct each member of this community owes to every other," Trask said in the statement. "I express my apology to Ms. Underwood and to this community and re-commit myself to ensuring that these values are upheld for all."

Photos posted on the Twitter account of the Duke Chronicle show graffiti on signs and leaded-glass windows urging Trask's firing. Other photos posted by the campus newspaper show dozens of students chanting or seated on the lawn outside the administration building.

The occupying group said the incident involving Trask and Underwood is reflective of what they call a longstanding history of institutional racism, discrimination and abuse of workers.

"The current and former employees that I've talked to said it's so bad that they really all need to go; that there's no way that this can continue to be acceptable to them if those three are still in employment," said one student protester.

The group of protesters calls itself Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity and said their motivation concerns racism, discrimination, and abuse of workers that extends beyond the incident between Trask and Underwood.

“It’s a simple thing. It’s almost like a moral appeal that these workers deserve better conditions,” said Roberts.

Campus police investigated Underwood's allegations two years ago, but she "chose not to pursue her police complaint," the university said in a statement.

A campus institutional equity office separately investigated the allegation of an uttered racial comment. "This investigation also did not produce sufficient evidence to confirm the allegations," the statement said.

The university also said that Underwood has filed a civil lawsuit against Trask.

The statement from Duke University further stated that all employees have access to a four-step grievance process, including a review panel of peers from across the school and the use of an independent outside arbitrator, selected by the employee, to evaluate the merits of each case. Employees can also submit complains of discrimination to the Office of Institutional Equity or the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. The university stated that former and current employees of Parking and Transportation services who have filed complaints or lawsuits against Duke have gone through these appeal processes.

Schoenfeld prepared to address reporters Sunday afternoon regarding the protesters and unyielding students followed him to the interview, shouting the entire time. After realizing he would not be granted a moment of silence, Schoenfeld gave the university’s side. He said he’s hopeful they’ll reach a compromise, but three administrators are staying put.

“We don’t fire people because somebody demands it,” he said. “We have a process for employment issues, for other kids of disciplinary issues and if there is a process to be followed, then the process will be followed.”

Duke's current minimum wage is $12 an hour, compared to the federal and state minimum of $7.50, the statement said. The school is pushing to require companies with which it contracts for campus services to also pay at least $12 an hour, the statement said.


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  • Matt Nickeson Apr 5, 2016
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    Unfortunately I don't think that economics is taught in HS anymore. Actually, I don't think that it is a required part of most undergraduate educations either come to think of it! But hey, at least everyone has a class in diversity.

  • Phillip Mozingo Apr 5, 2016
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    I hate to rattle cages but with a $15.00 per hour minimum wage, you actually take home less because of taxes in some cases. It depends on the individual and their circumstances. Some people better think about this real hard. Maybe go back and take economics again in high school. If the minimum wage is hiked to 15.00 per hour then there will be a lot of folks such as myself that will require wage increases as well. If a manager is making 15.00 per hour now and everybody under him is brought up to the same pay then the manager will have to move to 17-18 per hour. There is more to the story than just a minimum wage increase. It goes much further than that. Companies will not take the hit, taxpayers will absorb the entire cost and most people that get the increase will be forced into higher tax brackets which will disqualify you for any assistance from county and state government. -smh-

  • Eric Atkinson Apr 5, 2016
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    Evict them, now.

  • Chance Loria Apr 4, 2016
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    Do you truly believe full-time Duke Univ employees do not get benefits? Of course they do! Your point is moot.

  • Chance Loria Apr 4, 2016
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    We will all pay for a minimum wage increase as well. Do you really think any company will absorb that? Absolutely not. And what happens when the wage for line level employees goes up? Then the wages for middle management, upper management and executive management must also increase. And we will pay for that as well. I am in my 40's. I worked while in school. I worked 2 jobs when I got out of school. So nothing has changed. If you have no secondary education or you just got out of school and you're not yet making premium wage, then you work as much as you need to in order to support your lifestyle. It's been that way forever. Since when do employers owe employees more than what employees agreed to when they took the job? If that is what you agreed to, than deal with it. If you don't like it, move on and let somebody else have the job who will appreciate it.

  • H Lee Dawson Apr 4, 2016
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    A quick question, what happens to the supervisors and other workers? Will they get a corresponding raise. As a corporate Training Supervisor, I only made $15.38 an hr(salaried, no overtime). My trainers make in the vicinity of $12.50. If the the people they train get $15/hr then the trainers should make more which means they will make more than me so I should get a raise also. But now the company will to charge more thus making you protestors pay more. We need to get get Bernnie to sprinkle more pixie dust and give us all unicorns as this is going to be Bernie economics.

  • H Lee Dawson Apr 4, 2016
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    w Well the fact us old gray haired geezers complain my be due to the fact we have been around the block a few times, fought in a war, and raised families, thus giving us EXPERIENCE! You teens and 20 somethings have a really rough time.

  • Kristin Byrne Apr 4, 2016
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    Support "themselves." NOT a family. That's the problem. Some people feel they are entitled to everything, even without the hard work. People are starting/expanding families with government benefits in mind. I know people who have gotten pregnant already thinking of the benefits they'd receive. It's a real thing and raising minimum wage isn't going to change the entitled way of thinking.

    I'd love to expand my family, but childcare is expensive. Kids are expensive. I actually have to pay out of pocket for childcare. I don't get the subsidy. I don't get WIC or food stamps. I don't get housing help. My husband and I make good money, but we have less disposable income than people who make less. If you raise minimum wage, take away the entitlements. No wage is going to be appreciated when you don't have to work hard to get it.

  • K Hope Capps Apr 4, 2016
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    No doubt, both of your sons are doing great, wonderful things. That does not negate the fact that you can't just look at a flat hourly wage in this discussion. Are these Duke employees that are "only" getting $12.00 an hour receiving healthcare coverage (as I hope both your sons do).
    I work for a non-profit and don't make much more than $15 per hour myself, but I have low cost dental, employer provided life insurance, affordable healthcare coverage for myself and my child (my husband is covered by other means) and I have a retirement fund where I receive a yearly match. So my compensation is more than my hourly wage.
    I give you way too much information about myself BECAUSE for this sake of the minimum wage discussion, we need to also look at benefits. Otherwise, it is apples and oranges.
    And if the Duke employees in question are not getting benefits, specifically healthcare, then they do need more per hour.

  • Raleigh Rose Apr 4, 2016
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    The minimum wage needs to be increased. 40 years ago a person could support themselves working 40 hours a week o minimum wage, now they cannot even come close. Depending on a person's circumstances it is not as easy just going and getting more education/training. Keeping minimum wage low lets employers get away with paying less and then workers having to rely on assistance programs to get by. Guess who pays for these programs? You and me the tax payer while big companies can make a few extra million by having the government subsidize their payroll through food stamps and welfare programs. If we keep going in the direction we are currently in we will have economic issues because no one will be able to afford anything. You can't very well have capitalism if the majority of the population can't afford to buy anything.