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Housekeepers and Unionization

Housekeepers Enter Mount Holyoke

By the 1980s, there were no maids left at Mount Holyoke. Instead, individual housekeepers cared for the dorms.

The first housekeeper mentioned in the Mount Holyoke News was Kathleen Moynahan, a Torrey Housekeeper who ran for Holyoke alderman in 1983 against fifteen male candidates. Moynahan asked former Congresswoman and then professor Shirley Chisholm for advice on her campaign, and following Chisholm's tips emphasized her unique strengths as a female candidate. She ran on a platform based on "minority needs, housing, safety, police staffing, and economic development."

The Mount Holyoke News article about Moynahan opened a new era of student respect for the women who cleaned their dorms. Students in the past had published pieces complaining about maids and requesting the administration to increase their duties. Articles about housekeepers, however, usually portrayed them as the unsung heroes of Mount Holyoke. When the housekeepers of Mount Holyoke began to unionize, the Mount Holyoke News covered the process in detail.

Unionizing at Frances Perkins’ alma mater

On May 30, 1942, the Trustees of Mount Holyoke College noted that Smith College had been experiencing “labor difficulties” as their workers attempted to unionize. Smith College actively discouraged unions and had communicated with the Mount Holyoke Trustees in the hopes that “Mount Holyoke may decide to take some stand which will reinforce their own position.”

Despite this early hostility, organized workers eventually prevailed on campus. By 2000, the housekeepers were the only group under Buildings and Grounds that had not yet unionized. A group of housekeepers set out to change that, and after a series of talks with administration and union representatives, November 30, 2000 was established as the day the housekeepers would vote on whether to form a union. Eunice Coutinho, a housekeeper who helped organize support for the union, said at the time: "I need to be respected. I don't care if I lose my job but I don't want to lose my dignity."

The housekeepers collaborated with the faculty, students, and other staff to organize petitions, rallies, and teach-ins supporting their cause. The administration, however, was not supportive. In the days leading up to the vote, then-President Creighton issued a letter to the housekeepers, discouraging them from forming a union and arguing that unionization would be "a disruptive factor, not a unifying one."

In a faculty meeting with the President, Professor of History Daniel Czitrom called Creighton's letter "paternalistic". At a student- and faculty-organized teach-in, Politics Professor Preston Smith II said: "I find it highly ironic that on the eve of the centennial of Frances Perkins' graduation from Mount Holyoke, the administration is discouraging housekeepers from unionizing."

Despite some troubles, the vote went forward as planned. On November 30, 2000, the Mount Holyoke housekeepers made history when they voted to unionize with the United Auto Workers, Local 2322, and their unit remains organized with the UAW today.

Housekeepers and Unionization