Approximately 200 people gathered at the Wexner Plaza and marched through campus to protest the Comprehensive Energy Management project, an ongoing proposal to seek private partners to help manage Ohio State’s energy system.
The Comprehensive Energy Management project is an initiative that was first conceived in 2014, and the university is currently seeking requests for proposals from private partners, according to their website. United Students Against Sweatshops organized the protest.
The participants began their protest shortly after 3:30 p.m. in the Wexner Plaza and they marched through the Oval to the inside of Bricker Hall, where they paused to give speeches outside of University President Michael Drake’s office. They then continued through Thompson Library and concluded the march on the west plaza of The Union around 4:30 p.m.
“Privatization leads to worker’s job loss, job insecurity, benefit cuts, it’s not set up to be good for workers rights,” Shell Sindle, a fourth-year anthropology major and member of USAS. “We’ve met with administration, we’ve protested, we’ve written letters, we’ve done everything that we could and we still don’t have a seat at the table.”
Rob Messinger, spokesman for the Office of Business and Finance, said that the CEM plan is a way for the university to meet its sustainability goals to improve the energy efficiency of campus by 25 percent in the next 10 years.
“We project that campus-wide energy conservation measures would cost at least $250 million to achieve that goal,” Messinger said in an email. “If the university decides after the (request for proposals) to enter into a comprehensive energy management agreement, a private partner with expertise in these kind of sustainability projects would both carry out and provide the upfront capital funding.”
Still, members of USAS said they are concerned that the new plan will harm workers.
“It seems to be a consistent thing where university presidents won’t engage with the students about issues that they believe are important,” Samantha May, a fourth-year in political science and international studies who traveled to Columbus from University of South Florida.
The march preceded USAS’s yearly national conference, which began immediately following the march and is being held at OSU throughout the weekend.
“This is the genocide of the middle class,” said Darlene Sunderland, one of the speakers for the protest and a line cook who has been employed by OSU for the last 17 and a half years.
Despite these concerns, the university said that they will not fire workers during the transition.
“(Employees) will have the opportunity to interview with a private partner or they can remain at the university at their current salary. Claims that employees will lose their jobs or wages are incorrect,” Messinger said.
For some USAS protesters, this promise was insufficient.
“While the workers right now will not lose their jobs, they will not keep their roles and salaries are not guaranteed. So they will be losing their dignified positions,” Sindle said.
For others, opposing privatization is a matter of principle.
“There has been some gains with negotiations with the administration. But the bigger fight is against privatization,” said Nicholas Pasquarello, a 2012 graduate of OSU and member of the Central Ohio Worker Center. “We’re talking about things that are public being parceled out to private corporations.”