Through contacts in the Student Worker Alliance, I had the opportunity to chat with Anthony Randolph about Bon Appétit’s recently negotiated contract with its employees. Randolph has been a utility worker at AU for 11 years. Our discussion ranged from administrative details to an evaluation of student-worker relations on our campus.
In order to understand what these union victories mean to us as students, we must reframe the way we understand student-worker relations.
An eight-member committee of workers, including union representatives and negotiators, are responsible for the language of the contract. Highlights include stratified wage increases through 2015, important immigration clauses that will protect the security of employees (moreover, the day a worker becomes a citizen counts as a paid holiday!), health benefits and mandatory training.
Truthfully, however, most of us are not emotionally invested in Bon Appétit employees. We may justify these detached relationships by understanding them as business transactions. In other words, because our tuition pays their salaries, we may wonder what else we could possibly “owe” them.
But not everything can be measured in dollars and cents. Bon Appétit employees have names, faces and stories. Somewhere along the line, between friendly conversations as they swipe us into TDR, they become much more than the sum of their “services.”
In our conversation, Randolph joins my critique of a business model. “We see it another way,” he said. “We have a passion for what we do. You all are away from home, so we try our best to treat you like we treat family.”
Randolph praises the new contract for its flexibility and the voice it provides to Bon Appétit employees. For him, it’s never been about challenging the management, but rather about creating a system that respects workers, removes unnecessary stress and gives them the tools to do their best work.
“We’re a team,” Randolph said, describing students and Bon Appétit employees. He explained that the contract removes obstacles that had prevented workers from making administrative suggestions that would benefit students. Capitalizing on student input and worker initiative, Bon Appétit can better pursue its goals of sustainability and excellence.
If students and workers are a team, however, then the value of Bon Appétit’s new contract shouldn’t be understood solely in the context of how students will benefit. Instead, students should celebrate the new changes for the many ways they will enhance the quality of workers’ experiences.
We are responsible for one another. AU isn’t sectioned off into separate spaces for students and for workers. We are one community, which means that there shouldn’t be distinctions between “worker issues” and “student issues.”
As Bon Appétit employees advocate for the enforcement of these new regulations and rally for the respect that they deserve, students have an obligation to join them. Removing the walls that we put up between “us” and “them,” it’s time that we understand ourselves as united members of an inclusive AU community.
Justice for workers must be part of our campus discourse. So while matters are not completely resolved, the new contract should be seen as a victory for all of us, students and workers alike.
Derek Siegel is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.