Aramark workers and students at Western Washington University are celebrating today after last night’s announcement that they had won their union! For nearly two years now, Western food service has been under fire for contracting with two of the three biggest food service providers, Sodexo and Aramark. Almost a year ago now, students at Western joined forces with students at the University of Washington in Seattle to successfully end their contracts with Sodexo after major protests over their international worker rights abuses. Today, food service workers celebrate their new union and new working class victory over corporate greed.
Students at Western Washington have been keeping an eye on their food service provider for years. Before Aramark came onto the Western campus, the human rights abusing company Sodexo ran services for nearly 50 years. When students found out that Sodexo was violating the rights of workers across the globe and in particular heard from Carina Mieses, a Sodexo worker in the Dominican Republic, they began mobilizing to make sure their school had nothing to do with Sodexo and have them kicked off campus. Carina visited Western Washington as part of the Sodexo Truth Tour nearly a year ago speaking out about her experience of enduring constant management intimidation, refused time off to care for her daughter with respiratory illnesses, and ultimately getting fired when she tried to organize for a union at her workplace. Word spread nationally about not just Carina’s story but also the stories of Sodexo workers from Morocco to Colombia. By March of 2011, campaigns at campuses across the nation escalated to occupations of presidents’ offices and eventually dozens of student arrest. It’s no surprise then, that Western administrators ended their 50 year relationship with Sodexo and University of Washington followed suit months later and refused to renew their contract with Sodexo.
Today, Aramark runs food service at Western and since the beginning of this school year they’ve been intimidating Western workers, slashing their hours and pay. Workers quickly got fed up and made it clear that they weren’t going to take it anymore. They began mobilizing early in this Spring semester and built up their numbers in no time. Aramark just as quickly started making attempts to stop workers’ organizing efforts. Aramark distributed anti-union letters to employees and after worker and student outrage, WWU administration did not want more Big 3 related student protest and warned Aramark to stop. While they stopped the letters, Aramark continued vocally intimidating workers from organizing.
But Aramark’s classic union busting tactics didn’t work. Over the past couple months, students started to mobilize alongside workers. They collected petitions from students on campus, received the support of their student government, and joined workers and community leaders for delegations demanding WWU President Shepard take a stand for the workers and tell Aramark to put an end to their union busting tactics. Yesterday when workers were set to make their final decision on unionizing, students were right by their side. Last night, 100 Western Washington Aramark workers became member of SEIU 925. Aramark worker Chrispy Stift put it best, “I was confident all along”.
In December of 2011, we wrapped up the year with food service workers on 11 campuses winning unions despite the corporate greed of the Big 3 food service providers. Just last month, Northeastern workers employed by Chartwells beat back the corporate attack in Boston and won representation by Unite Here!. Time and time again, students and workers prove that when we fight back together, we win.
Congratulations to the workers and students at Western Washington University! Look out, Big 3!