On Friday, Feb. 18, dozens of Brandeis students joined dining workers in a protest for the dining workers’ union rights. The protest, organized by the Brandeis Leftist Union (BLU), was held with three demands regarding the treatment of union workers.
“We will not stand for this. Labor issues are student issues, and it is our responsibility to defend dining workers’ rights,” read pamphlets handed out to concerned community members at the rally.
According to pamphlets that were handed out at the protest, the demands were a public commitment to upholding union wages and benefits, a catering contract exclusive to union workers and representation and inclusion of union members in contractor selections. The third bullet comes as the university undergoes its selection process for a new dining vendor, according to a Brandeis Hoot article.
The pamphlets being circulated also included a QR code with links to keep informed on the BLU’s events, a list of chants that were used at the protest and a brief description of the dining worker situation.
In the section of the pamphlets describing the situation that sparked this protest the BLU wrote, “The dining union has been engaged in a struggle with the university over the past year. Catering workers have been stripped of their regular jobs. With the Sodexo contract ending soon, all dining workers fear for the security of their jobs and union benefits. Throughout the selection process, Brandeis has done nothing to protect dining workers.”
The pamphlet cited that many of the dining workers have been employed by the university for over 20 years, and still the university does not treat them “like members of the Brandeis community.” According to the BLU pamphlet, “The people who feed us deserve better.”
Union worker Lucia Sho, who has been working at Brandeis for 22 years, spoke to The Brandeis Hoot at the rally. Sho described how she feels Brandeis is a family, as she has watched first years turn into graduates and has kept up with them about their jobs, and how this is the first time that she’s nervous about her job’s security.
“Every day we prepare the food students, we stay [for a] long time for students. We want to stay here, we don’t want [to lose this] job. I need to support my family, that’s very important. I also need insurance, I’m a cancer survivor. When I stay here I can make money and support my family, and I need to have good insurance from the union so it can support me to take care of my health. This is very important to me, if I lost my job I would lose my insurance—I can’t imagine that. I’m very appreciative that my job [was] always secure—I never think about a layoff or something like that but now I have to worry, that’s the problem, we hope Brandeis thinks we belong to Brandeis, we are part of Brandeis, that’s my hope.”
As described in the “Petition to Support Union Dining Workers,” students were concerned due to the information that the University was hiring outside contractors for event catering. The outside contractors who don’t receive wages and benefits that are protected by a union contract were being selected for catering events rather than providing union catering workers with those jobs.
The petition went on to explain that,” The current dining workers have worked for Brandeis for decades and have fought to have fair wages and benefits, but now, their jobs are on the line. While the dining union can negotiate with Sodexo, they are not able to directly influence Brandeis’ decision making.” The petition states that students have the potential to have an effect on Brandeis’ decision-making. The petition received the signatures of 566 students in addition to a number of concerned citizens, parents, alumni and faculty, all in support of the dining workers.
Joshua Benson ’23, member of the Brandeis Leftist Union, led the chants during the protest on February 18. Benson spoke to The Hoot and explained, “I think that [the higher turnout than expected] speaks to the enthusiasm of students to support labor and social justice on campus, and the real urgency of the workers in retaining their jobs and their wages. I think we really showed the university that these sorts of things can’t fly under the radar, that students and workers were together and we’re watching the university and we’re not going to let anything slip past us.”
The BLU also posted about the protest on their Instagram page. According to the post, they want to make the catering contract exclusive to union workers, uphold the union contract even in the event that a new dining vendor is selected, have transparency over catering decisions and the selection process and have union dining workers represented in negotiation talks with new dining contractors.
The protest began outside Upper Usdan near Loop Road. After rallying the students and thanking everyone for supporting the cause, protestors made their way from the Kutz Hall offices to the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center, but upon entering didn’t encounter any present administrators. The BLU was joined by other concerned groups on campus including the Brandeis Labor Coalition and the Brandeis Nordic Skiing Team.