By Ethan Miller
On Jan. 30, food service workers here at AU, represented by UNITE HERE Local 23, signed a new contract with Bon Appétit Management.
This historic union contract, in addition to greatly improving wages and benefits, guarantees workers a full 40-hour workweek and gives them a significant voice in sustainability efforts in TDR and other campus dining options.
This victory comes after a semester of organizing by students who knew that workers were not being respected in the dining facilities on campus. Before the end of last semester, the campaign peaked with a 120-person march and delegation to Bon Appétit management.
Why should we care? Several people who we talked with over the course of the campaign told us: “This is a worker matter, not a student matter; it’s none of our concern.” We strongly disagree.
Workers are an important part of the AU community The fact that some Bon Appétit workers have been forced to take out food stamps because they’re paid so little is not only mind-boggling, it’s unacceptable. Especially when you consider that meal plans can cost nearly $13 per swipe.
Thanks to UNITE HERE as well as the students and workers who worked on this campaign to make their voices heard, we managed to convince Bon Appétit that our workers are worth more. Not only in terms of money, but in terms of respect.
As students, we need to hold all parties accountable to this agreement going forward and make sure that slick words turn into meaningful action.
Nonetheless, the new contract is a massive step forward for workers’ rights and sustainability here at AU.
Of course, Bon Appétit workers are not the only group on campus struggling with unacceptable working conditions. You may remember that last February, adjunct professors here at AU overwhelmingly voted to form a union.
The average part-time professor at AU receives $3,700 in compensation for teaching a three-credit course. If an adjunct professor teaches five courses a year, they would have a yearly salary of $18,500. Compare this to the adjusted poverty line for D.C.: $16,151 for a single-person household.
Do our professors, who hold advanced degrees, teach up to 45 percent of courses at AU and have dedicated their lives to our education, deserve this kind of treatment?
The answer is pretty clearly no. Just as we have a responsibility to stand with food service workers on our campus, we have a responsibility to stand with our professors. We believe that professors who are not exhausted from running from school to school in order to pay their rent are far more likely to deliver a positive academic experience.
After negotiating with the University for nearly a year, adjuncts and the administration have been unable to agree on the most important issue: compensation.
If you, like us, find it unacceptable that students pay nearly $4,000 for a three-credit course but half our professors live barely above the poverty line, then do something about it.
Ethan Miller is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and Sean Reilly Wood is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. Both are members of the Student Worker Alliance.