An Aramark housekeeping staff member was taken to the hospital last Tuesday afternoon after suffering from severe pain during her shift.
Alba Vigil, who has worked at AU since 1991, suffered from pain she described as “feeling like a nail had stabbed her in her back,” that afternoon, according to Carlos Vera, who acted as an unofficial spokesperson for Vigil as she does not speak English. Vera is the founder of the workers’ rights group “Exploited Wonk” and is a 2016 AU alum.
Vera said Vigil had been cleaning Hughes Hall at the time of the incident, and was taken to Sibley Memorial Hospital in an ambulance where she stayed until Tuesday night.
According to Vera, Aramark supervisors Maria Sanchez and Miriam Lazo increased Vigil’s workload approximately a week ago, adding the lobby and classrooms of Hughes Hall to her pre-existing workload of cleaning three floors of the building and forcing her to walk more. This increase occurred despite Vigil’s preexisting medical conditions that she had disclosed in writing in 2012 to her supervisors, including back pain and a failing kidney that inhibit her from completing the new amount of work.
Vera said that this increased workload coupled with Vigil’s medical conditions forced her body to physically give out on Tuesday. However, Aramark officials have not confirmed that this hospitalization was directly related to her workload.
“The day that happened, she’s cleaning Hughes Hall and at this point she had already cleaned the lobby, the kitchen, the toilets, all this stuff,” Vera said. “She was cleaning in the bathrooms and the showers, so she’s reaching down and at one point basically her body stopped responding and she started shaking. She couldn’t even move. Like it just gave up.”
According to Vera, Vigil called her supervisors when her body gave out, which led Jason Greco, the director of Aramark housekeeping, to call an ambulance. At that point, she was wheeled out of Hughes Hall and taken to the hospital where she received immediate attention.
Both Vigil’s ambulance ride and hospital fees were covered by her health insurance, according to Vera.
Vigil returned home to rest by Tuesday night, but Vera said she is still in pain despite being on medication and has yet to return to work.
Vincent Harkins, AU’s Assistant Vice President of Facilities Management, said the University had been informed of Vigil’s incident on Tuesday and encouraged reaching out to Aramark officials for further comment, given that all Aramark workers at AU are employed directly by the company.
“AU was fully informed of the situation as it was happening and is confident that the response was appropriate to the needs Alba expressed,” Harkins said in a statement via email.
Karen Cutler, Aramark’s Vice President of Corporate Communications, said in a statement that the company is concerned about its employees’ health and safety.
“We share your interest in the well-being of our employees at American University,” Cutler said in an email. “As I’m sure you can understand, privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing any information about Ms. Vigil. I can assure you that the safety, health and well-being of our employees is our top priority and we ensure that any employees who require medical assistance while they are working receive immediate attention.”
This was not the first injury Vigil says she has endured while working for Aramark. She injured her back at AU in 2012 after moving beds in Centennial Hall, which led to frequent and ongoing steroid injections to deal with increased pain. Aramark leaders have not confirmed whether or not these medical issues are linked to her workload on the job.
Since then, despite bringing medical documentation to her supervisors’ (Maria Sanchez and Miriam Lazo) attention, alerting them of her physical limitations, Vera said these documents have never been respected.
Within these documents, the name “Esperanza” is commonly noted; this is the alias Vigil originally went by before publicly telling her story within the last year.
After talking to Alba in the hospital on Tuesday, Vera said she was unsurprised that she ended up there, given what she claims is an ongoing correlation between her speaking out against her supervisors and an increase in her workload.
In response to these incidents, Vera said he would like to see Aramark supervisors Maria Sanchez and Miriam Lazo removed from their current positions, in addition to more accountability on behalf of the University administration in terms of improving workers’ rights so others won’t have to endure the same treatment as Alba.
“You know, some people say ‘I hope she gets better,’ but the fact is that she won’t. She’s going to have health issues for the rest of her life,” he said. “So I’ll be honest with you, I’m obviously pushing to get Maria and Miriam out, but there really is no happy ending here for Alba.”