Students launch ‘Exploited Wonk’ campaign to advocate for Aramark workers
Students across campus are campaigning for Aramark workers to receive greater benefits and foster better relations with the University.
Aramark’s contract with AU expires on June 30, and students claim workers are frustrated with Aramark and want change.
Among the students’ main concerns are parking rates, tuition remission and an expansion of the buildings that workers clean.
But the primary goal is to persuade AU to stop subcontracting workers and employ them directly instead.
“Our ultimate objective for them is to be directly employed by the University,” said Melissa Mahfouz, a School of International Service junior. “Because if one company comes and goes it could be just as bad, or just the same or just as worse. So that’s what we want so they can have all these benefits.”
AU has subcontracted with Aramark, a corporation that offers food and custodial services, since 2001.
Because the workers are not employed directly through AU, they are unable to receive the same benefits as AU faculty and staff, including tuition remission.
Students screened a documentary April 19 that garnered the “Exploited Wonk” buzz, entitled “Aquí Estamos: Here We Are,” created by second-year graduate student Charlene Shovic.
The documentary showcased the relationship among the AU community and Aramark workers, as well as their environment at the University.
Most Aramark workers not eligible for discounted tuition
As employees of Aramark rather than AU, most workers and their children are not eligible for discounted or waived tuition at AU.
If employees have worked with the University in custodial services since 1983, they are eligible for tuition remission. This is a small group of workers, according to Assistant Vice President of Facilities Development and Real Estate Jorge Abud.
Abud added that the University doesn’t handle the benefit of tuition remission, but that the issue would go through the union that the workers belong to, called the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“The negotiation of benefits for the Aramark staff is part of the union process,” Abud said. “[The University is] not really in the midst of that, and if some kind of tuition assistance is important to the workers in the negotiating, certainly we’d have to look at what role the University plays in this.”
Some workers, especially those with children, say tuition remission is important to them.
“We work here for many years, some people work here for 20 to 25 years and they don’t have nothing and they go with nothing,” said one woman, who has worked at AU for nearly 20 years and has two children, including a 15-year-old looking ahead to college. “It’s very confusing for the future because the money’s not enough to pay now for education.”
Aramark workers upset with parking rates Parking rates have been a prominent issue voiced by Aramark workers during meetings with students. Parking takes up nearly 6 percent of an Aramark worker’s income, according to students. Current parking for full-time employees is $120 per month and $1,440 per year, while part-time employees pay $61 a month and $732 a year, according to the AU website. These rates will increase after May 1. An Aramark worker can make from $12.81 to $13.81 per hour at the entry level, $14.07 to $15.17 at custodian level, $14.42 to $15.52 at the utility level and $14.77 to 15.87 at the lead level, according to contract information between Aramark and SEIU obtained by The Eagle.
AU wage policy, since Sept. 1, 2009, has required that the base wage be set at $12.
“One of the things we ask is not a parking subsidy, but that parking be proportional to the amount that the University pays you,” Amelia Frank-Vitale, a School of International Service graduate student, said. But Vince Harkins, assistant vice president of Facilities Management, said different rates for workers wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the AU community, who pay full rates. “Providing a parking subsidy is inconsistent with the University’s sustainability initiatives, which discourages driving and encourages use of public transportation,” Harkins said.
Parking on campus is only enforced from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Since a parking permit is not mandatory, some night-shift workers can use pay-as-you-go meters for $1.50 an hour or $12 a day, according to Harkins.
Workers’ duties expand AU will expand Aramark workers’ services to six buildings off campus. The University currently has Aramark workers cleaning all on-campus properties, including Tenley Campus.
“We found especially that we have more staff than we really need for the facilities that they’re cleaning,” Harkins said. “So we’ve asked Aramark to tell us what it would take for Aramark to start cleaning some of the off-campus properties that the University owns.”
Among the buildings included in the expansion are AU-owned offices at 3201 New Mexico Ave., 4200 Wisconsin Ave., 4620 Wisconsin Ave. and 4545 42nd St.
Harkins said Aramark came back to AU with a proposal that included cleaning some areas of campus less frequently with new cleaning technology.
He added that cleaning some areas less frequently wouldn’t decrease the cleanliness of the campus, but workers would focus on the most frequently trafficked buildings, such as the Mary Graydon Center and the Ward Circle Building.
“My office right now, the trash is emptied every day,” Harkins said. “Now I generate about three pieces of paper a day in trash, it really doesn’t need to be emptied every day.”
Harkins also said that new cleaning products would help clean the same amount of area in a shorter amount of time. Workers protested the expansion at a meeting with students and workers, saying there was already a lot of work to do.
“They’re getting new machines, but no new workers, so they’re just stretching the workers out further and further,” said Aaron Montenegro, a first-year graduate student studying philosophy and social policy.
“We see this with the new [School of International Service] building. The same woman who covers the old SIS building has to cover the new SIS building as well.” Harkins said that one worker would not be covering both SIS buildings.
“That’s probably grossly incorrect,” he said. “In general, we allocate one staff member for every 20,000 square feet or so per building. The new SIS building alone is 80,000. [East Quad Building] was about 20,000. Typically, we would use five people for those buildings combined, so I find it hard to believe that only one is actually assigned there.”