Aramark and the Struggle for Worker's Rights

BY: JENNA CALDWELL

If you have eaten in Mary Graydon Center in the past few weeks, waited in the never ending line of Einstein’s Bagels, or met up with friends to eat Terrace Dining Hall (and proceed not to eat TDR), you have probably seen – and heard – the protests against Aramark. Aramark is the company that American University has contracted to cook, feed and clean up after us, the student body. Unfortunately, for the unfair treatment of their workers.

Recently, Aramark employee Ana Ebanks was fortunate enough to receive a full-ride scholarship from the Latin Legum Magister program at AU’s Washington College of Law. According to Josselyn Ebanks, Ana’s daughter, a verbal agreement was reached with management where they said they would accommodate her work schedule to her school schedule. Like many of us, Ana simply wanted to further her education and make a living. She missed 40 minutes of her previously scheduled shift. Despite their verbal agreement, Ana was fired.

The firing of Ana Ebanks has started the popular hashtag #Justice4Ana across social media. Ana is not the first and may not be the last worker to be treated unfairly and receive harsh punishment from Aramark.

Campus-led protests against the company were started by the AU Student Worker Alliance  and have recently been joined by the Black Student Alliance. Both organizations are focusing their efforts toward protesting for the rights of AU’s Aramark workers, a group composed of primarily Black and Latinx employees.

According to BSA member Isaiah Young, “A lot of older black workers that work with food, they don’t have any money for retirement. Basically they’re going to be working until they die. If we can change a policy, if we can force Aramark to change a policy into where they start to implement or give back funds to the workers for retirement then that would be great.”   

Last year, former AU professor James McCabe was arrested by Metropolitan Police after distributing flyers in support of worker benefits for the school’s food service employees. McCabe’s flyers highlighted the fact that longtime workers are unable to retire due to poor retirement plans offered by Aramark, whereas non-contracted AU staff members receive more benefits.  

“I think it's fairly obvious that Aramark does not care about its workers. I think it's also up to American to tell them that need to change the way they treat their workers, or they’re not going to contract them any longer,” said BSA member Bryant Bonner.

AU has allowed many issues with Aramark to persist with little to no comment. BSA president Ma’at Sargeant wants to remind the university that, “These corporations are about making money and not about human rights. Unless we completely stop contracting out with Aramark-type companies and we start doing something else, I don’t think that it’s going to get any better. Us just getting rid of Aramark is not just us getting rid of the problem.”

One of the biggest challenges that these protesters have faced so far is Public Safety. During the spring of this year, alt-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos was invited to speak on campus by AU’s Libertarian club, Young Americans for Liberty. This caused outrage amongst some members of the student body who did not agree with Yiannopoulos’ extremely conservative views. The protest was so emotionally driven it was evident that a violent outburst could have occurred at any moment. And yet, Public Safety took little interest in attempting to break up this protest.

But when BSA screenshotted, printed and posted racist comments that appeared on Yik Yak, an anonymous social app, last year, Public Safety was very adamant about the swift removal of these posters from campus. DPS has also been quick to shut down anti-Aramark protests.

“You’re trying to protect a white supremacist, capitalist, transphobic, homophobic, racist image of this institution that you, yourself are playing into. That image ain’t going to work for you,” said Young. 

Another issue expressed by BSA member Jada Bell is accountability. “A lot of the American University students do not realize that they take part. Silence is compliant. Just because you sit and don’t think you’re treating the workers badly, you’re partaking in the system that is systematically destroying them.” Bell goes on to say that if we, the student body, take on accountability it would be the first big step toward increasing workers’ rights on campus.

Whether it was the arrest of James McCabe or the firing of Ana Ebanks, at some point we must face reality and ask ourselves how we can allow such blatant human rights’ violations and disrespect of workers occur everyday in our own community. In the face of injustice, we can only rely ourselves to make change.

Cover: (Courtesy of AU Black Student Alliance)