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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Education & Student Activism | Labor & Workers
Custodian Honored by Dalai Lama, Terminated from Job at Seminary Two Years from Retirement
On May 16, 2001, Hector Mira and 49 others accepted awards from the Dalai Lama for their “works of compassion.” For the past 26 years, Hector, a resident of Novato, has worked as a custodian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in Berkeley, CA. This May, just two years from retirement, his job was terminated. Four alumni of the seminary speak out and seek support for Hector.
BERKELEY, CA – Because of his advocacy for orphans and poor farmers in El Salvador, Hector Mira was forced to flee the country to the United States in 1981. For years, now, he has run a program supporting El Salvadoran youth and orphans that includes vocational training in computer technology and tailoring. Each year he returns to El Salvador and distributes nearly 1000 baskets of food to elderly adults and 1000 toys to children. All of this is on a custodian’s salary! When asked about his motivation, Hector responds, “You cannot carry your Bible under your arm. You must carry it in your heart.”
On May 16, 2001, Hector and 49 others accepted awards from the Dalai Lama for their “works of compassion.” They were recognized as leaders who “through their loving kindness and service to others, have made their communities and our world a better place.” Each year since then he continues to be invited to meet with the Dalai Lama at an annual honorary dinner.
For the past 26 years, Hector, a resident of Novato, has worked as a custodian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in Berkeley, CA. This May, just two years from retirement, his job was terminated. While this was a part of larger budgetary staff cuts, four alumni of the school recognized the drastic impact this would have on Hector, 57, who is the most vulnerable with regard to finding a new job of the five who were terminated. Despite his past experience as a municipal accountant in El Salvador, for an older Hispanic male job seeker, his recent work reflects only his custodial experience and his loyalty to his employer, the seminary.
“We have been really concerned about Hector from a very practical perspective,” explains ’09 alumnus Justin R. Cannon. “He does not qualify for unemployment because the school does not contribute to the state unemployment system, and he is still two years away from being able to draw his retirement benefits. We also are concerned about his ability to find a benefited job in this economy.”
In June, alumni Justin R. Cannon, The Rev. Debbie Graham, Judith Lebens, and The Rev. Anne Mckeever met with President and Dean Donn Morgan to present a letter from Hector asking the school to consider reinstating his job. The alumni echoed that request citing the negative impact this has, not only on Hector and his family, but also on those he supports in El Salvador. Hector explained, “I am not sure I will be able to go back to El Salvador and continue the programs to help those in need without this salary.”
Donn Morgan spent three weeks deliberating, and on June 29, 2009, issued a response to the four alumni. “He basically said that because of their fiscal situation the school cannot do anything. This does not address the injustice of firing someone after 26 years of loyal service when they are just two years away from retirement ,” explains Cannon. “ We are gravely disappointed with this outcome and considering the current economy, are not sure what more we can do for Hector– which is our ultimate concern and motivation.” When asked about the school’s decision, Cannon clarified, “My understanding is that the school does not feel it can reinstate Hector without reinstating the other four employees who were terminated.”
“As our custodian, Hector has truly been a consistent pastoral presence at the seminary for 26 years. He is a man who greets you everyday with a smile and a hug, who provides daily encouragement to all students and staff, and who sings hymns while he cleans the toilets,” recounts Judy Lebens, remembering Hector’s presence for the two years she lived in the seminary dorm. “When he left the school on May 29th, he dismantled the beautiful altar in his janitorial closet.” Cannon adds, “It’s tragic that he was let go at a time when students were not around and with such short notice. There’s been no opportunity for the community to honor Hector’s 26 years at CDSP.”
The seminary is part of a larger consortium of seminaries that make up the Graduate Theological Union. Although each seminary has its own administrative structure, concerns of injustice and impact on student education have also been raised in regard to staff cuts at two other seminaries. These concerns have been particularly strong where staff of color have departed in the predominantly white seminaries, prompting letters and protests by faculty and students alike.
Cannon, Lebens, McKeever, and Graham are hoping to help Hector find a job and a way to continue his ministry to El Salvador. A former nursing administrator, Lebens stated, “I’d hire Hector in a heartbeat. He would be a gift to me, my staff and my patients.” Cannon stated, “I really hope we can find someone to hire or support Hector and his ministry. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d be lying if I posted a Craigslist ad for Hector with the title ‘Saint for Hire’…I just don’t think people would take it seriously.”
For more information contact Justin Cannon at justincannon [at] truthsetsfree.net