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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis mailroom transitions to Xerox, longtime employees left jobless

Published: June 10, 2014
Section: News, Top Stories

On a cloudy day in 2009, William “Bill” Bowen, also known as “The Singing Mailman” crooned “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” His performance marked the minting of the new Louis Brandeis stamp. His act was met with cheers, similar to the everyday smiles he earned from students by singing in the mailroom.

Many Brandeis University students also know Nancy Landry, site manager at the Brandeis mailroom. They have seen her day in and day out for 28 years. They have watched her carefully process over 65,000 packages each year.

When combined, the years of service the Brandeis mail staff contributed is longer than Brandeis University itself has been in existence, especially when considering Landry’s 28 years of service and Bowen’s 35.

But due to the university’s recent decision to transfer ownership of the mailroom from Canon Inc. to Xerox, Bowen and Landry are no longer a part of the Brandeis community.

“Brandeis was a family and had family values and you had family members working generations there,” said Landry in an interview with The Hoot last week. “You see, I still loved working there and thought when I started there some 28 years ago that it was a place I could work ’til I retired. It felt like a home, which a lot of people felt as well, ’til things started changing quite a few years back.”

This past May, those changes reached new heights, as the majority of the mailroom staff strolled through the Brandeis campus for the last time. After a bidding process, Brandeis chose Xerox to operate the mailroom and copy center, instead of continuing a contract with Canon Inc. Landry always knew this change was a possibility. “The fact that they decided to contact somebody else to run the mailroom, I always knew that could happen. The fact that they did somewhat surprised me. But then I saw how little this company wants to pay its employees,” she said.

An official statement released by Steve Manos, Chief Operating Officer, and forwarded to The Hoot by Executive Director of Integrated Media Bill Schaller, reported that Xerox is in charge of hiring its own employees. Staff members such as Landry and Bowen, are not Brandeis employees; instead they were officially hired by Canon.

“Canon has found and offered several new positions to its employees who will be leaving Brandeis. In addition, the university is working closely with Canon to ensure that affected employees are treated fairly and receive transition assistance,” the memo reads.

Yet Landry reports that to the best of her knowledge, Canon was not able to provide jobs for any of the people who previously worked at Brandeis. “Canon was not able to give jobs to any of the employees as there were only two jobs available in the Boston area, and other people were applying for those jobs,” she said. In her interview, Landry especially highlighted the wages offered by Xerox: $10.50 base pay, $12 an hour for a position like Landry’s, and $14 per hour for a supervisor. As a long-time mailroom worker, Landry describes this pay as unreasonable.

“When we were first outsourced 18 years ago, I was the meter clerk and was making $12.00 an hour. To go back 18 years and to be paid the little and to be responsible for so much is unthinkable,” she said.

It is not just workers like Landry who are affected by this change. Many students have spoken out against this change on social media sites, and others have communicated with campus newspapers such as The Hoot. Multiple alumni have also contacted The Hoot to express their outrage.

Halee Harold Brown ’13, who worked at the Brandeis mailroom both as a student employee and later as a full-time worker, recalls her time there extremely fondly. “I recognized how much the mailroom really does and how much they really care. We all know how friendly the team that managed the window was, always asking about your day and wishing you the best, but the behind the scenes effort is also immeasurable.” In her interview with The Hoot, Brown explained how the staff went above and beyond, each and every day. “There have been a number of times that the staff members have stayed after hours to give out packages to students that couldn’t make it before close, staff that have come in on weekends to help retrieve medications/passports and staff that have helped students getting their packages across campus. This isn’t within the call of duty of the job, but comes as second nature to a group of people that are dedicated to making the mail process a personal and pleasant experience for the student body.”

Brown felt her hours in the mailroom were well spent, with people who were more than just co-workers. “I felt at home, and when I left the mailroom, I was leaving my family behind,” she said.

Alex Melman graduated in 2011 with majors in Environmental Studies and Economics. He was inspired to contact The Hoot in order to get his voice (and the voice of other alumni) heard. “I was shocked and ashamed to hear that Brandeis was outsourcing its mailroom to a corporation and essentially firing the entire staff, some of whom have been a part of the Brandeis community for far longer than our new President, COO and other high-priced administrative managers … When we start maximizing short-term financial gain by abandoning members of our community, we undermine the very foundational values which allow Brandeis to exist in the long term. It is a sad, sad mistake, and one I hope is recognized as a betrayal of our values and a poor way to deal with our problems,” he said.

The memo released by Brandeis back in May lists certain services offered to the former mailroom employees. This includes resume and interview support through the Hiatt Career Center, access to the Brandeis Employee Assistant Program and severance pay. “The university will provide each individual with a payment equivalent to what they would have received had they been Brandeis employees and subject to the university’s severance policy,” the memo reads. “This step is being taken in recognition of the service by these employees to the University community, although they were employed by another entity.”

Another email released on Aug. 14 discussed the changes made to campus over the summer, including the mailroom. “Mailroom operations are currently open for business, but in a temporary location adjacent to the International Lounge in the Usdan lobby,” reads the email, written by Jim Gray, vice president of operations. “Mailroom operations plan to return to their usual location in Lower Usdan on or close to Aug. 25. As part of the Usdan renovation, new mailboxes have been installed, so returning students will receive an email about how to pick up a new mailbox key.”

Students such as Brown are concerned that Xerox employees will not be willing to make sacrifices similar to those of Landry and Bowen, and that the quality of mail service at Brandeis will decrease. “The staff in the mailroom have been dedicated to running their operation for a long time and while there are a standard set of rules, they often go above and beyond to excel in customer service … We [the staff] did an exorbitant amount of ‘look-up’ mail, for mail and packages that came in without a specific mailbox number, to ensure that all the community members get the mail and packages that were intended for them—Xerox has no intention of processing look-up mail; if a piece comes in without a mailbox, it will be immediately returned to the sender,” Brown said.

“By going with Xerox the students and the university is losing services that they once had,” Landry stated. While Bowen could not be reached by press time, one of those services is The Singing Mailman, best known for belting out tunes much to students’ amusement.

“My only concern is not even for myself. It is for Billy [Bowen],” Landry said. “It kind of blows my mind that [President] Fred Lawrence was saying you’re a family, you’re a family. But [Brandeis] is not a family anymore … you don’t care about your people per se.”

Managing Editor Victoria Aronson contributed to this article.

This article was updated on Aug. 22 from its original publication on Jun. 10.