Student Worker Alliance kicks off semester of advocacy
The group is partnering with another group, Exploited Wonk, to form a coalition to support Aramark workers
Students, faculty and other members of the AU community filled a packed auditorium at AU’s Wechsler Theatre for the Student Worker Alliance kick off on Feb. 2.
“[The kickoff] was fantastic. We had an amazing turnout,” Student Worker Alliance president and School of Communications sophomore Elli Bloomberg* said. “I’m so excited for the semester. We had so many passionate students turn out who really want to get involved because they understand the importance of what we’re doing.”
This year, Exploited Wonk, a movement created by School of Public Affairs senior Carlos Vera which highlights abuses from Aramark workers at AU on social media, and the Student Worker Alliance, a student-worker solidarity club, joined forces to form a coalition to create committees focusing on specific issues that Aramark workers face.
The coalition was formed to enhance students’ efforts to resolve the unequal treatment workers experience coming from AU and Aramark. The inequality of treatment motivates students to fight for Aramark workers, according to Bloomberg.
“I just think that workers are really an integral part of our community, and a lot of times I’m really ashamed of the way the University and Aramark, especially Aramark, treat workers,” Bloomberg said. “I think that organizing has really great potential, especially if students get together and show we are watching, and we’re not going to sit idly by and watch human rights abuses happen on our campus.”
For Student Worker Alliance member and College of Arts and Sciences sophomore transfer student Aaron Kahn-Bork, the work the coalition and club does improves the integrity of the university.
“Since we fund this University as students and Aramark is employed by the University, anything that happens to the workers is happening in our name,” Kahn-Bork said.
Vera, the founder of Exploited Wonk, said that Aramark workers feel like family to him. An Aramark worker even offered Vera a place to stay during the summer when Vera had nowhere to go.
“It was moral obligation because I am Latino and coming to a school with not that many Latinos I just kind of connected with the workers, particularly the housekeeping staff, which are majority Latinos,” Vera said.
The coalition spoke with Aramark workers directly to get a sense of how the student groups can specifically help Aramark workers. A plan of action was formed before the kick-off based on what the Aramark workers said they needed.
The committees created by the coalition include Food Service Advocacy, Housekeeping Advocacy, Club and Greek Life Outreach, Media Outreach, Cleaner University and Education/Retirement Committee, according to Bloomberg. The committees are in charge of advocating, creating ideas and implementing those ideas to create equality amongst Aramark workers.
For example, Bloomberg said that the Food Service Advocacy committee hopes to fix any issues that a new contract poses for workers when the current contract between AU and Aramark expires this May. Vera said worker abuse isn’t uncommon across college campuses, but he wants AU to do better on worker equality.
“Something happens and usually [Aramark] go[es] ‘it’s not in the contract, we can’t help you,’” Vera said. “We’re just challenging AU to lead on worker treatment.”
Vera said he is focusing on the Education/Retirement Committee this semester, which aims to create a scholarship for the children of Aramark workers. According to AU’s Benefits for Faculty and Staff page, faculty members’ children are allotted four years of free college tuition for their child to attend AU or Wesley Seminary. Another option is to exchange those four years of tuition to attend another university through the Tuition Exchange Scholarship Network.
According to Vera, that benefit does not transfer to AU’s Aramark workers because they are not directly working through AU, but through Aramark. Vera hopes to see this activism on behalf of Aramark workers continue with other students after he graduates in May.
“The end goal is to institutionalize worker rights into the University because I’ve been here for a while, and I’ve seen sometimes students come in, they do some activism and then they graduate [and it ends],” Vera said.
Going forward, the coalition will focus on increasing the number of members involved through continued outreach efforts. The club gained widespread interest when former AU professor Jim McCabe was arrested in TDR for protesting Aramark’s treatment of workers last October. As of now, the Student Worker Alliance has over 800 Facebook likes while Exploited Wonk has over 1,500 Facebook likes.
“Ultimately the challenge is, how does this stay consistent,” Vera said. “I don’t want to graduate and see this die... That’s the key here, everyone getting involved. I really do see great stuff happening and things have already happened...it’s small steps.”
*Elli Bloomberg was a past member of The Eagle.