Victory: Western Washington U Aramark Workers Win Union!

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!

U. Washington Kicks Out Sodexo! D.R. Workers’ Struggle Gains Momentum as U.S. Workers Win Unions

Read more: Seattle Times (12/14) – UW Daily (12/14) – UW USAS (12/14) – Associated Students of UW (12/14)

Today, the University of Washington ended its 25-year relationship with Sodexo following a massive campaign by UW USAS and the UW Kick Out Sodexo Coalition. The decision is a major boost to a campaign by students across the US, UK and Canada in solidarity with Sodexo workers in the Dominican Republic facing a fierce crackdown from the company as they struggle against sweatshop conditions.

A key victory for the international campaign to end Sodexo’s labor abuse in the Dominican Republic

UW is the fifth university this year to drop Sodexo amidst student protest over labor abuse, following Western Washington University, Northeastern University, Regis University and Pomona College. The campus food service giant has lost its very last contract with a public university in the entire state of Washington.

Earlier this year, UW students traveled to Sodexo’s work site in Pueblo Viejo, Dominican Republic, and were shocked by workers’ stories of abuse. The coalition hosted a powerful on-campus event with Karina Mieses, a Pueblo Viejo worker who Sodexo fired after she began speaking up against illegal wage theft, sub-poverty wages and harassment from management. She and her co-workers — over 300 Sodexo employees at Barrick Gold’s massive Pueblo Viejo gold mine — formed a union to improve working conditions, called SitraSodexoDO. But Sodexo responded by firing Karina along with at least three other union leaders, a flagrant violation of workers’ basic freedom of association.

Finally the coalition organized not one, not two, but three sit-ins to urge their university to kick out Sodexo unless the situation in Pueblo Viejo was resolved. UW arrested a total of 50 students to try to stop the movement. Sodexo even flew out top exec Thomas Mackall to dissuade UW administrators from heeding students’ demands.

But after Sodexo refused to re-hire any of the D.R. workers fired for speaking out against the abuse, and refused legally-mandated negotiations to improve working conditions, the UW finally said enough is enough and dropped Sodexo.  As always, students and workers united can never be defeated!

Sodexo will be replaced by Aramark, another corporate outsourcing giant. While UW USAS celebrates the hard line their university took against Sodexo’s labor abuse, they are already planning efforts to hold Aramark accountable to the same standard. After a campaign like UW USAS ran this year, Aramark knows it better be on its best behavior.

A wake-up call to the corporate giants of campus food service

The decision at UW is a wake up call to the “Big 3” giants of outsourced campus services: Sodexo, Aramark and Compass. All three multinational corporations make massive profits from both cutting corners on food quality and exploiting workers. The companies sub-poverty wages and fierce union-busting don’t just stay far-away overseas — To the contrary, these sorts of sweatshop conditions are rampant on our own campuses.

But campus workers and students are fighting back! Just this year, workers on our campuses have gained a union and voice at the workplace for the very first time: Sodexo workers at Morehouse College, Loyola University Maryland, Stevenson University in Baltimore, Ursinus College, Whittier College, Loyola Marymount University, St. Peter’s College and Ohio Dominican University. Aramark workers at Georgetown University and Carleton University in Ottawa. And Chartwells (Compass) workers at Dominican University in Chicago.

At a time when companies everywhere tout the economic downturn as an excuse to strip away workers’ rights and protections, students and workers have proven that when we stand together, not even a multinational corporation can stop us.

We won’t stop till D.R. Sodexo workers win justice!

Our demands of Sodexo are very simple:

  1. Re-hire every Pueblo Viejo worker fired in retaliation for speaking out against sweatshop conditions. This includes Maria Magdalena Ortega Jimenez, Carin Yadel Mieses, Maraquia Penalo Rodriguez and Heriberto Sosa Morillo.
  2. Improve working conditions in Pueblo Viejo by completing the legally-mandated collective bargaining process with workers’ union, SitraSodexoDO.
If Sodexo had any doubt that we are serious, we hope the UW decision today makes crystal clear that we will not tolerate labor rights abuse by any company doing business with our schools. The UW victory has inspired and energized all of us, and we are ready to stand with D.R. Sodexo workers in their courageous fight for justice!

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