In July, I traveled back to Wellesley from Boston to attend presentations made by the two final bus companies being considered for the College’s new transportation service. Academy Bus Charter and WeDriveU––both of which took themselves out of consideration in the final stages of the hiring process because of the Senate Bus’ late-night runs––were set to give their case for why they would be the best option for Wellesley’s new shuttle bus system.
An email with information about the presentations was sent to all summer students, but I’m not a summer student and received no such email. I was living in Boston completing an internship when my editor, a summer student, asked if anyone in our newsroom group chat would be going to the bus presentations event. And while there are scores of current Wellesley students in the greater Boston area who would have readily provided feedback to administration officials present in the meetings, they were locked out of participating from the get-go by virtue of not being on the summer mailing list.
I researched the two finalists to prepare for the meetings. I felt especially uneasy with the information I found about WeDriveU. Less than a month ago, the embattled company was in the news for hiring non-union ‘scabs’ without any impending strikes. Scabs are paid less and traditionally hired while negotiations take place to end an ongoing strike. Not anticipating one. This comes about four years after an SFGate article about the lives of WeDriveU and other tech company shuttle drivers. Despite contracting to some of the richest corporations in the world—Apple, Google, Facebook, etc.—drivers are left with “few job protections,” “low wages” and “often paltry benefits.” One WeDriveU driver described in the article that the job sometimes “feels like ‘jail.'” She said, “I’m killing myself for them for $19.25 an hour.” Yet another, discussing his relief after WeDriveU fired him said, “I have never come across a job that burns you out so fast.”
In attendance at the WeDriveU meeting were representatives from the three companies; administration officials including Peter Eastment, director of faculty housing & transportation; Jim Wice, director of disability services; Piper Orton, vice president for finance and administration and treasurer; Sheilah Horton, dean of students and vice president of the College; Helen Wang, director of residence life and housing and a couple of others whose names I didn’t catch; a student who had worked with Eastment over the summer and myself. I was the only one there that had not been working on these negotiations all summer.
But something—besides the corporate, humanity-sacrificing baggage peddled by the representatives—felt off in the meetings.
Horton asked what the company would do if students are left behind or the bus fills up. A representative responded that the students would be issued codes for Uber or Lyft, ride-share services that can charge anywhere from $25 to $60 for a ride between Boston and Wellesley. It all seemed pretty straightforward. But a follow up from Horton—”What is an Uber code?”—stilled the room. I’d expect the vice president of the College, supposedly in tune with all students’ problems and lives, to know what Uber is, especially when the service gets quite a bit of business from stranded Wellesley students every week.
I asked about wages and benefits for drivers. Another representative smugly responded, “$21 to $22 per hour, much lower than $35 per hour in the Bay Area.” I pressed about the SFGate article, which detailed the numerous labor injustices committed by WeDriveU in particular. He rolled his eyes. The administration officials murmured, as if news to them.
In both presentations, Peter Eastment asked one question that still stands out to me. “Are your drivers part of a union?” Really what he means is ‘do your drivers have representation to support them and advocates for their rights?’
Eastment sat back in his chair, relieved.
In the talkbacks, I once again brought up WeDriveU’s history, which was not hidden from anybody. Heaven knows if these administration officials, each with degrees more impressive than the next, knew about this before the meeting—or cared.
It hit me then that these were the people making decisions that run our daily lives. Which bus company is chosen, who lives in which decrepit residence hall; who stays and who goes (Remember the greenhouse vigil? The voluntary retirement program articles?) And it hurt me to see what and how readily things could be sacrificed to get the most economical deal.
Even with all the open doors and office hours the Wellesley administration offers, it doesn’t really matter. Each campus-wide gathering will begin and end with the same reassurances that we are a community and that every word said is a word heard, no matter what place you occupy on campus. But public relations is manipulation. And nobody is invited to sit at the top without being a PR master.
For better or for worse, when decisions are made at Wellesley, student input is always invoked by the powers that be. Committees seat the requisite student members, and town halls become social events. We all seem to talk, and talk and talk. The onus is on us as students to constantly give feedback, not criticism. That is, feedback when they ask for it, and criticism when they don’t. This year, as with every other year, Wellesley’s administration has failed us spectacularly. Once again, we trusted that administration heard our desires for a functioning transportation service. And once again, we can’t help but be disappointed.