Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, October 23, 2018

AU to re-evaluate contract with Aramark for cleaning services

The current contract between AU and Aramark will expire this summer, allowing the University to either re-contract with Aramark or sign on a new service provider for another year.

AU contracts Aramark to provide housekeeping services for buildings on and off campus.

Aramark is a multi-national, billion-dollar corporation that has been repeatedly cited by other universities and the Unite Here campaign for its exploitation and maltreatment of employees, according to The Georgetown Voice and other independent newspapers.

Aramark accepted the University administration’s offer to add four off-campus buildings to their contract last year. The acceptance of this increase resulted in Aramark workers cleaning 4,500 more square feet per day.

The average employee’s daily workload increased from 22,500 to 27,000 square feet per shift, according to Vincent Harkins, assistant vice president of Facilities Management.

The national benchmark is 32,000 square feet per worker, according to Harkins. This cut-off is set by Sightlines, a facilities assessment company.

“We’re not in this business to terminate people,” Harkins said. “It’s all a matter of efficiency at the end of the day.”

Student Worker Alliance member and School of International Service freshman Tom O’Connor claims the workload increase for Aramark workers is due to the new buildings the school will build as a result of the new Campus Plan.

“Basically, what this means is that workers will be expected to clean a 23 percent larger area in the same amount of time without any increase in benefits,” O’Connor said.

AU wage policy, since Sept. 1, 2009, has set the minimum wage at $12, The Eagle previously reported.

“Our work goes up and up, but never our salaries,” one of the workers said at a Student Worker Alliance event on March 28. “The time in which we have to get the work done is not enough.”

For fear of retaliation by their bosses, workers wished not to identify themselves.

“What we implore is that, as workers, that we are respected in our workplace, not be treated as if we are worthless,” another said.

The AU Student Worker Alliance is running a campaign in support of better pay and working conditions for Aramark workers.

Over 30 students signed a petition to encourage AU administration to limit the square footage each worker must clean at an event hosted for Aramark workers by SWA.

Students have also been posting photos of themselves on Facebook holding posters advertising their support of Aramark workers since March 20.

“This particular campaign was sparked by the fact that we felt that since last year’s ‘Exploited Wonk’ campaign, the campus had sort of forgotten about the Aramark workers,” SWA organizer and College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Ethan Miller said.

The new Facebook campaign has drawn support from various campus organizations, such as the Latino and American Student Organization, Fair Trade Student Organization, Community Action and Social Justice, Community Learners Advancing Spanish and English, Occupy AU and the AU Methodists.

Philip Scranage, a sophomore in School of Public Affairs and School of Communication and Student Government Director of Student Voice and Participation, decided to participate in the poster campaign after learning about workers’ rights during SG President Tim McBride’s election campaign.

Scranage pointed out that the University administration released a statement in January to implement socially responsible business practices. Those practices would include assessing the way companies that work with the University treat their employees.

“Students should be involved because we come to AU to change the world,” Scranage said. “This is a way for us to impact the world around us in a meaningful way.”

SWA also wrote a letter to President Neil Kerwin’s office two weeks ago. The letter outlined the SWA’s concerns about the increased workload and provided a proposal regarding workers’ rights on campus.

Students have not yet received a response to the letter, Miller said.

Students also made phone calls between April 10 and 12 to Kerwin’s office expressing their support for Aramark workers.

“Sure they get paid for what they do,” O’Connor said. “But I’d like to believe that this campus is a community where our relationships run deeper than their mere function.”

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