|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on February 24, 2015 at 1:55 PM||comments (0)|
Vice President Bymaster,
In April 2011, seven students – including four Emory students – were arrested on Emory's quad after camping out for five in days in protest of Emory's food service contract with Sodexo. Those students, all members of the campus organization Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS), raised several serious concerns regarding Sodexo's practices on our campus. These concerns included the denial of core benefits, including healthcare for part-time workers and MARTA cards for all workers; captive-audience anti-union meetings, in violation of international standards; disrespectful treatment towards workers, with no adequate grievance mechanism outside of Sodexo itself; and low wages that pose additional burdens for workers who typically face seasonal unemployment during the summer.
In response to SWS' allegations, along with the spectacle of the arrests, Emory established a Committee on Class and Labor to investigate the status of subcontracted (and other) employees on Emory's campus. For several months prior to the arrests, various members of the Emory administration asserted that there was no reason for concern over Emory's labor policies, that the independent human rights reports featuring Sodexo's practices were disputed and unreliable, and that SWS itself was merely a pawn of big unions looking to undermine Sodexo's credibility. When the Committee on Class and Labor released their report in 2013, however, it told a very different story. Far from a defense of the administration's claims, the report repeated – nearly word-for-word – many of the concerns that SWS had originally raised.
With the Sodexo contract set to expire in May 2015, Emory has an opportunity to enact the thoughtful and ethically serious recommendations put forward in the 2013 Committee on Class and Labor Report. We cannot emphasize strongly enough that the nature of the soon-to-be-concluded contract – in particular, whether the regulations it includes are strong, enforceable, and reflect the nearly four pages of concrete recommendations in the 2013 report – are the only material test of Emory's commitment to the well-being of its subcontracted workers. In the absence of such provisions, Emory has both abdicated its ethical responsibility to our community's workers and explicitly ignored the findings of the only Emory body to formally and thoroughly investigate the issue.
Any level of research on the issue reveals that Sodexo is a corporation with a disturbing history of malfeasance and a stated commitment to avoid regulation. Should the university choose to ignore its own recommendations, it will not only actively facilitate unethical business practices, but it will in effect force all freshmen and sophomore students on the mandatory meal plan to be party to their corruption, intimidation, and human rights violations.
To this point, the Class and Labor Implementation Committee has provided no clear indication that they intend to follow through on any meaningful aspect of the 2013 report. In fact, the differences between the 2013 report, and “checklist” released in 2014 in order to implement the report's findings, are striking. Essentially every specific, enforceable, and meaningful recommendation in the 2013 report is absent from the 2014 checklist. Instead, this latter document consists, almost exclusively, of vague and unenforceable statements of principle. The 2014 document contains no mention of freedom of association, no specific statements on what constitutes an acceptable benefits package, no mechanism for addressing concerns about adequate grievance procedures, no process for ensuring that Emory will be able to gain knowledge about subcontracted workers' experience, and no “minimum acceptable standards” on labor and ethical issues; all recommendations referenced in the 2013 report. The two attached appendices further document the substantial differences between these documents.
As students and concerned members of the Emory community, we request that the Class and Labor Implementation Committee publicly reaffirm its commitment to implementing the recommendations detailed in the 2013 Committee on Class and Labor Report. In particular, we are interested in what specific and enforceable provisions Emory intends to include in its final contract agreement. These provisions, in turn, should be made available to the Emory community for further clarification, discussion, and debate. Without specific policies designed to hold subcontractors accountable to Emory's values, and without the courage to open such policies to scrutiny from the entire Emory community, we do not believe that Emory can live up to its mission “to create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.”
Mike Demers, 18C
Ross Gordon, 12C
Carly Moore, 18C
Andrew Jones, 17C
Students and Workers in Solidarity
Appendix 1: Excerpts from the 2013 Committee on Class and Labor's Findings and Recommendations
Wages, Benefits, and Two-Tiered Labor
[Emory should] “Identify and, where possible, seek to reduce significant differences between the circumstances of Emory’s staff and circumstances of contracted workers. In particular the University should:
a. strive to reduce significant gaps in wages between Emory and non-Emory workers on campus;
b. strive to reduce significant gaps between benefits of Emory and non-Emory workers on campus—e.g., standardized health screenings, parking policies, library and gym access, bookstore discounts, and other academic pricing requiring the Emory Card, carpool arrangements, MARTA card eligibility, access to (and information about) university facilities, local discount opportunities, tax counseling, and educational (and career development opportunities);
c. encourage a shift toward greater fulltime employment for contracted workers;
d. consider enrolling contracted employees within Emory’s health plans;
e. strive to ensure that contractors’ policies and practices regarding non-discrimination and grievances match the university’s”
“All the companies indicate the presence of internal grievance mechanisms; several specifically note the availability of hotlines. Emory has no role in these mechanisms, and while questions have been raised by students and contract workers about the adequacy of these mechanisms, the university has no way of independently assessing them.”
Freedom of Association and Right to Organize
“(5) Explore how companies engage in practices like monitoring demonstrations and holding closed-door meetings with employees about labor organizing. The university should further determine whether such practices conflict with the university’s commitments to free expression. The outcome of this exploration could determine additional measures for assessing contractors both before selection and during regular evaluation.”
Ability For The University To Gather Information on Workers' Experience
“The committee was frustrated that we could not engage with contracted employees as we wished, and as we usefully did with Emory’s own employees. We could not gain independent information about important questions, such as whether some sets of contracted workers prefer part-time schedules, or whether employees find their company’s grievance procedures problematic. More generally, we could not ascertain how Emory’s contracted employees experience their situations on our campus. Notwithstanding the belief among Emory liaison officials that they have effective relations with these companies (exercising varying administrative styles), current arrangements limit the university’s review of these companies’ labor relations largely to reviewing what the companies themselves report. The university therefore cannot claim that it knows the status of the contracted workers’ experience.”
“[Recommendation] (4) Acknowledge explicitly and actively address the impediments—especially prevailing interpretations of strictures against “co-employment”—that currently prevent the university from gaining independent knowledge about contractors’ employees. Emory also should give high priority to finding solutions to these obstacles—soliciting access to the companies’ worker surveys, for example, or commissioning third-party reviews.”
Specific and Implementable Standards
“In any case, what is needed are directly relevant and implementable standards that attend to a company’s record of labor relations. The Labor Code of Conduct proposed by Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS) might serve as a reference for the kind of standards that would be appropriate... Other universities also have posted such codes on their websites, and these also may serve as references.”
“...assessments of major contractors [should] take into account their current and recent performance in other universities or relevant institutions; should be guided by clear and directly relevant standards; should be both formative (i.e., informal and ongoing) and summative (i.e., annually and at time of contract renewal); and should review various facets, including service, safety, financial performance, and—importantly—contractors’ demonstration of satisfactory labor relations.”
Measurable Ethical Standards and Minimal Acceptable Standards
“ii. Develop a checklist of institutional values and practices (e.g., wage guidelines, passing of National Labor Relations Board standards, meeting measurable ethical standards, nondiscrimination in all of Emory’s categories, range of benefits... against which potential contractors’ practices would be measured. Scores on the checklist are to be balanced against financial benefits to the university. To aid this process, the university should identify a minimally acceptable score on the checklist as well as ethical criteria that must be met.”
Appendix 2: Full 2014 “Checklist” Released by the Class and Labor Implementation Committee
II. When Outsourcing, the Following Key Principles Should be Considered When Selecting a Vendor that Employs Staff Who Work on Emory’s Campus (Principles to be used for the contracts reviewed by the advisory group described below).
c. Respect for the individual
d. Compliance with U.S. and state law
e. Safe and healthy working conditions
f. Adherence to ethical business practices
g. Good stewardship of the University’s financial resources
h. Consistency with Emory’s ethical principles
III. Institutional Values and Practices that will be Considered When Selecting a Vendor that Employs Staff Who Work on Emory’s Campus (Consideration of these values/practices to be used for the contracts reviewed by the advisory group described below).
a. Compliance with Emory’s minimum rate of pay (mandatory for vendors that have 50+ employees on campus)
b. Nondiscrimination in all of Emory’s categories (http://policies.emory.edu/1.3, Section 1.3.2)
c. Demonstrated commitment to diversity (http://provost.emory.edu/community/areas/)
d. Demonstrated commitment to sustainability (http://sustainability.emory.edu/)
e. The vendor’s employee benefits package (including, but not limited to, access to medical insurance, leave policies, retirement benefits)
f. Providing adequate grievance procedures through their employer
g. Support of work/life balance (http://www.worklife.emory.edu/index.html)
h. Providing career development paths and training
i. Attention to the impact of seasonal and part-time employment practices
|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on February 24, 2015 at 1:50 PM||comments (0)|
Emory Wheel Editorial by SWS Regarding Deliberation Over Expiring Sodexo Contract
Available on the Wheel website here: http://emorywheel.com/sodexo-workers-experiences-ignored/
With Emory’s food service contract with the French multinational corporation Sodexo set to expire at the end of this academic year, the two finalists for the next contract — Sodexo and the California food service company Bon Appetit — each presented their case to the Emory community on Monday and Tuesday at Harland Cinema. Both presentations emphasized the respective companies’ commitments to environmental sustainability and quality food. On another questions, however, both Sodexo and Bon Appetit were largely silent: the food service workerswho are a crucial part of our community at Emory, and whose work makes possible everything else that happens at our university.
We find this omission troubling given the scrutiny that Sodexo’s labor policies have received in recent years and especially in the context of Emory’s stated mission “to create, preserve, teach and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.” Fulfilling this ambitious and laudable mission requires more than just talk. It requires action. In the best case, the renewal of the food service contract represents an opportunity for Emory to renew its commitment to justice and responsibility. In the worst case, it represents a betrayal of that same commitment, reducing Emory’s mission to little more than words on a page.
Demands for strong worker protections — including living wages, guaranteed benefits and the right to freedom of association — are sometimes portrayed as little more than naive, youthful idealism. In our view, the opposite is the case. In light of a large and publicly available body of evidence on Sodexo’s labor practices, the real idealism would be to assume that Sodexo’s self-congratulatory claims to ethical conduct reflect what is actually happening.
In 2010, Human Rights Watch, in 19 pages of extensive documentation drawing on examples from three states, concluded that “despite claims of adherence to international standards on workers’ freedom of association,” Sodexo policies include “threatening workers that they can be permanently replaced if they exercise the right to strike for improved wages and conditions” and that “in some instances, Sodexo has crossed the line to anti-union behavior unlawful under both U.S. law and international standards.” A year later, a TransAfrica Forum report found that “Around the world, its workers argue that Sodexo’s employment practices violate their workers’ human right to their own livelihood.” Citing examples from Colombia, Guinea, the Dominican Republic, Morocco and the United States, the report concludes that Sodexo’s business model “keeps workers poor and locks their communities into seemingly endless cycles of poverty.”
Many of these claims have been further documented as realities on Emory’s campus. Echoing Human Rights Watch’s findings, a 2010 Wheel article investigated a series of mandatory “union-related” meetings held by Sodexo on Emory’s campus. One Sodexo employee, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retribution, suggested that “Sodexo workers at Emory are largely in favor of unionizing, but many fear retaliation and therefore remain mum.” The employee added, “We don’t even know how many hours we’re going to work every week. We all go to work not knowing whether we will go home early or [if] our schedule might change.” At a public Worker’s Forum held at Emory in 2011, another Sodexo employee testified that “There are several pregnant women that I work with who have to stand all day long … It’s like whatever they can get away with, they do it.” According to the Wheel, the panel’s consensus was that “Sodexo offers neither a secure job environment nor a compassionate one.”
In response to student pressure, Emory commissioned a Committee on Class and Labor to investigate labor practices on campus. Its conclusions, released in Jan. 2013, warrant close scrutiny in the context of the ongoing contract negotiations:
“Officials from the six [major Emory contractors, including Sodexo] expressed varying but substantial discomfort with the very idea of our engaging directly with their employees … We could not ascertain how Emory’s contracted employees experience their situations on our campus… The University therefore cannot claim that it knows the status of the contracted workers’ experience. And this lack of direct knowledge, in turn, is a key indicator of the difficulties encountered by a university striving both to implement ethically responsible oversight and to rely on outside businesses.”
Disturbingly, this finding suggests that Sodexo employees who wish to raise concerns about their employment status have few options beyond speaking anonymously, to the Wheel, under fear of retribution.
Over the past several months, Emory representatives have made vague statements regarding the “institutional values and practices” that will guide the contract selection process. The presence of Sodexo in the final round of this process, however, raises serious concerns about whether these values have materially influenced Emory’s decision making. To this point, Emory has failed to follow through on its 2013 commitments to “Make the rationale and process for choosing major contractors more transparent” and develop “measurable ethical standards” and “a minimally acceptable score” on labor and ethical issues. In order to make possible a policy that provides meaningful protections to subcontracted workers on our campus, it is crucial that the Committee on Class and Labor be held accountable to these commitments during their presentation at the University Senate meeting on Feb. 24.
Concerned members of the Emory community should demand what any Goizueta or Emory Law student would demand: we want a concrete policy, in writing, and we want to see it before we sign it. The contractual provisions protecting campus worker’s rights, and ensuring that their treatment by contractors meets the high moral and ethical standards of our community, must be specific, measurable, enforceable and open to extended clarification, discussion and debate by all members of the community, including and especially the workers themselves.
The necessity of such action — and the unacceptability of Sodexo’s presence on our campus — should go without saying for a university that aspires to ethical leadership and service to humanity.
Mike Demers is a College freshman from Merrimack, New Hampshire. Ross Gordon (‘12C) is an alumnus of the College from Chicago, Illinois.
|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on April 13, 2012 at 1:20 AM||comments (0)|
Protesters Plead Not Guilty, Await Possible Trial
By Roshani Chokshi and Jordan Friedman
The seven individuals — including four Emory graduate students — who were arrested in April 2011 for trespassing on the Emory Quadrangle while protesting the alleged mistreatment of Sodexo’s employees declared that they are not guilty yesterday and now await news regarding a possible jury trial on June 4.
The maximum sentence for a criminal-trespassing conviction is one year in prison.
Prior to their arraignment, Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS) members held an outdoor press conference on the Quad outside Emory’s Administration Building. Speakers gathered around one of the original tents where some of the arrested individuals had been pulled out of before being escorted to the DeKalb County Jail by the Emory Police Department last spring.
During the press conference, other members of SWS held signs that cited alleged instances of injustice on the part of Sodexo, Emory’s food employer, to workers and also called for free Metropolitan Atlanta Railroad Transportation Authority (MARTA) passes for all contracted Emory employees.
Sixth year Ph.D. student Emiko Soltis said that the individuals were not arrested for criminal trespass but for the content of their speech.
“The continued prosecution is even more unacceptable,” she said during the press conference. “Our only intent has and will remain to seek equality and justice for all working members on this campus.”
Third-year student in the Rollins School of Public Health Roger Sikes also expressed disapproval at the presence of Ron Sauder, vice president of communications and marketing, and Elaine Justice, associate director of media relations, at the event.
“Instead of dealing with workers’ rights issues on our campus Emory chooses to employ their [public relations] strategy to divide workers and students,” Sikes wrote in an email to the Wheel.
Soltis and Sikes said that Emory has the influence to drop the charges. Despite offers from the administration to work with the arrested individuals to seek dismissal of the pending charges, Soltis and Sikes maintained that they would not sign the conditional agreement because of “vaguely defined policies.”
In a previous interview with the Wheel, Soltis added that the conditional charges were unappealing to the arrested individuals because “we don’t think it’s reasonable to make us sign away our rights.”
“Emory admits they can get the charges dropped but only if we give up our civil rights and admit that we were wrong to sit on our own campus Quadrangle in protest,” Sikes wrote in an email to the Wheel.
However, Senior Vice President and General Counsel Stephen Sencer said in a previous email with the Wheel that only the prosecutor — the DeKalb County Solicitor — can dismiss the criminal accusation.
In addition, Sauder wrote in an email to the Wheel, “With regard to the pending charges, Emory University remains interested in working with the students who were arrested for trespass on April 25, 2011. To that end, Emory’s counsel has spoken with their counsel in the past with an offer of cooperation and has reached out again this week. To move the process forward, we respectfully suggest that the arrested individuals put their attorney in touch with Emory’s, as Emory’s offer still stands.”
Soltis said that all SWS asked for was the creation of an “accountable mechanism” such as a President’s Commission on Class and Labor in addition to administrative subsidization of MARTA passes to subcontracted workers.
Sauder wrote that the University administration “does not believe that the formation of a permanent body to examine labor conditions is warranted.”
|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on September 29, 2011 at 3:45 PM||comments (0)|
The Teamster Bus Drivers on Emory's campus were in negotiations with First Transit Management (The Emory bus transportation contractor) for the past two months. Emory Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS) performed a letter delegation to the regional manager of First Transit right before he went into negotiations with bus driver leaders on our campus. Here is the letter we delivered:
September 29th, 2011
Dear Mr. Humphrey,
I am writing to you today on behalf of the Emory University student organization Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS). Our organization works to ensure that all workers on our campus are treated with dignity and respect. The First Transit Drivers are an integral part of our campus community and their consistent hard work allows students, campus workers, faculty, staff and community members access to needed transportation. Through our use of the Cliff shuttles members of SWS have built relationships with the drivers.
SWS is aware of the negotiations between the Teamster drivers and the First Transit management. We expect that First Transit management will reach a fair contract with the drivers. This includes fair yearly wage increases that are considered satisfactory by the drivers. We will not tolerate poverty jobs on our campus. Furthermore, we expect that drivers will have guarantees that the vehicles that they operate will meet safety standards considered satisfactory by the drivers. This includes functional air conditioning in all of the vehicles. We will stand with the Emory bus drivers if a fair contract is not reached. Thank you for your time Mr. Humphrey and we look forward to a healthy relationship. If you have any questions please contact us.
Students and Workers in Solidarity
|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on April 29, 2011 at 2:24 AM||comments (0)|
A Testimony by Laura Emiko Soltis
April 28, 2011
My name is Emiko. I was one of the sevenstudents who was arrested on Monday evening for sitting in a tent in theQuadrangle. I am a fifth year PhD candidate at Emory University, and it is as amember of this beloved community that I am writing a response to PresidentWagner’s two statements regarding the “protest issue” on campus. As I do nothave the privilege of having an All Emorybutton on my email account or the ability to post my statement on the home pageof Emory’s website, I must rely on the good will of friends, colleagues, andstrangers to communicate this message to the wider public. Thank you very muchfor taking the time to read this statement and for your willingness to evaluatecritically both sides of this issue.
First and foremost, it is necessary to clarifywho we are as members of Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS), theprinciples we stand for, and why we are engaging in collective action. SWS is astudent organization that seeks only to speak as students in our capacity andresponsibilities as students. We do not claim to speak for workers, who havevoices and the capacity to speak for themselves. We are a democratic,non-hierarchical, autonomous organization that takes Emory’s mission of ethicalengagement, courageous inquiry, and knowledge in the service of humanity to bethe cornerstone of our collective efforts. Moreover, the principles enshrinedin the Universal Declaration of Human Rights make up a large part of the deepwell from which we all draw our inspiration. Individual members also draw upontheir own moral and religious beliefs to guide their actions in SWS.
SWS was formed in January 2010 in response to anumber of food service workers who, at great risk to themselves, began sharingpersonal accounts of disrespect and intimidation at work. In theseconversations between Emory students and food service workers, students learnedthat the workers who expressed interest in joining a union were being targetedby their supervisors and that the contracted food-service provider, Sodexo, hadinitiated mandatory meetings at Emory’s campus facilities that were billed asinformative sessions on unions. While technically legal, workers shared thatthese meetings effectively served as veiled threats against workers to preventthem from seeking union representation. The students of the newly formed SWS,while concerned about Sodexo employees specifically, soon realized that therewas a larger structural issue at Emory that allowed such blatant offenses ofEmory’s core values to take place- the issue of sub-contracted labor. Thestudents of SWS began researching Emory’s labor policies and talking to manydifferent types of workers on campus, and we found that Emory’s current laborpolicies maintain a discriminatory two-tier labor system on campus. On one tierare direct employees hired by Emory, who enjoy protection under Emory’s Code ofBusiness Ethics and Conduct, certain benefits, and access to Emory’s EmployeeCouncil. On the lower tier are sub-contracted workers, who are employed by acompany that is contracted by Emory University to provide certain campusservices. These workers are excluded from the rights and responsibilitiesoutlined in Emory’s Code of Business Ethics, receive a fraction of the benefitsafforded to Emory employees, and do not have any type of forum to address thequality of their workplace environment on the grounds of Emory’s campus. Wefelt that in our capacity as students, we were ethically and physically boundto ensuring the well being of those who prepare and serve us the food whichnourishes our bodies, which of course, makes all of our academic, intellectual,social and professional endeavors possible.
In March of 2010, we thus set forth our demandsfor the Emory Administration:
1) Implement a Labor Code of Conduct that wouldguide Emory’s ethical responsibilities to ensure the health, rights, and wellbeing of all direct and sub-contracted employees
2) Form a President’s Commission on the Statusof Labor which, on equal standing with other President’s Commissions designedto protect the rights of vulnerable populations on campus due to race andethnicity, gender, or sexuality, would oversee the Labor Code of Conduct andserve as an independent, investigative and reporting body that would beaccountable to the Emory community.
Members of SWS called on the EmoryAdministration to implement these demands by April 9, 2010. Despite a petitionof more than 1,000 signatures, and powerful testimonies of three brave foodservice workerspublished in the Emory Wheel on March 22, 2010 in response to a misleadingeditorial written by Sodexomarketing managers posing as food service workers, President Wagner and hiscabinet wrote a public letter which stated that “the employees in question are not Emory employees, andEmory does not control the labor policies of its contractors,” that Sodexo saysthat there is no problem, and that Emory has no responsibility toward itssubcontracted labor force.This prompted a response from more than 78 faculty members, who co-signed aletter in the 2010 Commencement Edition of the Emory Wheel which condemned theAdministration’s disengagement from ethical responsibility and suggested thatSWS demands would be “useful starting points” in addressing inequalities inEmory’s labor policies.
Yet, graduation came and went,summer rolled along, and the administration continued to insist that they donot bear responsibility for subcontracted workers. Over this past 2010/2011academic year, SWS continued to engage with food service workers and fellowstudents and held several public forums in which workers, again, at great riskto themselves and their families, testified to a workplace at Emory in whichdisrespect and disregard for employees have become standard practice. Maleworkers of color shared how they are often called “boy” by their supervisors.One young woman testified how her pregnant colleagues are continuously denied accessto chairs without appropriate documentation from personal physicians who mustbe approved by Sodexo. Story after story, President Wagner and hisadministration continued to evade the issue and failed to appear at theseforums upon frequent invitations by SWS to hear the testimonies of food serviceworkers who, despite being employees of Sodexo, have “Emory” embroidered ontheir uniforms.
Then, in September, members of SWScame across a report by Human Rights Watch, a pre-eminent human rightsorganization respected around the world, which documented in its report “AStrange Case: Violations of Workers’ Freedom of Association in the UnitedStates by European Multinational Corporations” how Sodexo, the 21stlargest employer in the world, systematically violates international humanrights standards and U.S. labor law. Similarly, in January, SWS was notified ofyet another report by an independent human rights organization, TransAfricaForum, documenting Sodexo’s violations of international law in its practicesaround the globe, including the United States, the Dominican Republic,Guinea, Morocco and Colombia.
Committedto ethical standards as articulated in the Universal Declaration of HumanRights, and its foundational belief that all human beings are born free and equalin dignity and rights, that they are endowed with reason and conscience, andshould therefore act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood, the membersof SWS decided that our previous two demands were insufficient, and that Emorymust also cut its financial ties with a corporation with documented andsystematic human rights violations. We made these demands clear to theadministration on numerous occasions. As President Wagner accurately stated, wemet with administration officials for a total of nine times. What PresidentWagner failed to mention was that the officials he appointed to these meetingswere largely uninformed of Emory’s own subcontracted labor force, refused todisclose any information about Emory’s contract with Sodexo (which effectivelyprevented productive dialogue on progressive steps forward), and wereindifferent at best and instruments of deflection at worst.
Feeling disregarded andlegitimately frustrated, the members of SWS called for a public statement byPresident Wagner addressing Emory’s continued relationship with Sodexo andEmory’s responsibility to subcontracted workers. In early April, we invited PresidentWagner to address the university community on Wednesday, April 20that 12:40pm on the Emory Quad. Emory students, staff, faculty, food serviceworkers, and members of the Atlanta community were invited to the quad at noonto listen to student and community speakers and to await President Wagner’saddress. The highlight of the event was when Isaac Farris Jr., the nephew ofReverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and current president of The King Center,underscored the importance of the Civil Rights Movement and King’s dedicationto economic justice, reminding the crowd, and especially the young generation,that King was marching with sanitation workers who were demanding respect ashuman beings when he was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Moreover,Mr. Farris pledged the continued support of the Southern Christian LeadershipConference to the struggle for equality and human rights for all of Emory’sworkers.
As 12:40 arrived, Vice PresidentGary Hauk walked toward the crowd, and delivered an address on behalf of PresidentWagner. To the students’ disappointment, this statement was actually an emailthat President Wagner had sent to college sophomore and SWS member Alex Zavellthe night before. The statement, which is also available on Emory’s homepage,was yet another attempt at evasion of the issues of equality and ensuringdignified treatment of subcontracted workers on Emory’s campus. Instead ofaddressing these issues, President Wagner referred to Sodexo’s preferredresponse, that the “unrest” at Emory is due to the battle between SEIU (ServiceEmployees International Union) and Sodexo, inferring that the students of SWShave fallen victim to the conspiracy of big unions and are unwitting pawns ofSEIU. Again, I stress and personally testify that neither myself nor any memberof SWS is paid by, benefit from, or has any affiliation with SEIU whatsoever.We are graduate and undergraduate students from all corners of campus who areconcerned about the treatment of workers to whom Emory claims no ethicalresponsibility. Nowhere in President Wagner’s statement does he address workertestimonies of mistreatment or disrespect on Emory’s campus, actions Emory cantake to ensure healthy and safe work environments for all, or even how Emory’sethical commitments relate to its business relations with Sodexo.
Unsatisfied with an email responseand President Wagner’s continued evasion of the issues presented by SWS,students entered the administration building and walked up to the fourth floorto wait for President Wagner. The door to his office was locked, so we decidedto wait patiently in the hallway until President Wagner actually addressed theissues presented to him. There were many exchanges between the students, manyof whom were sitting and studying for finals, and various administration officialsincluding Vice President Gary Hauk and Senior VicePresident and Dean of Campus Life JohnFord. As 6:30pm arrived and the building was to be locked, still without wordfrom President Wagner, we were informed that we had to leave the building.Having waited 12 months since our last dialogue with President Wagner andfeeling the moral necessity of discussing Emory’s continued relationship withSodexo, we stated that we preferred to wait for President Wagner’s return tocampus. Over the next 90 minutes, we received conflicting statements andrequests from administration officials. Eventually, Emory police arrived andthreatened arrest if we did not leave the building. When we asked whyadministration officials were even considering arrests, which seemeddrastically inappropriate in response to our continued commitment to respectand non-violence, we were told that it was not safe for us to be in theadministration building overnight. When I personally asked if they thought itwas safer in county jail, I did not receive a response. However, presented witha promise that we could meet with President Wagner the following day, wedecided to exit the building. While outside, we asked Emory Police to explainto us the rules of why we could not stay in the building. We were instructedthat Emory buildings are not sites for free speech, but that the Quad was a“free speech space” on campus.
Provided thisinformation, the remaining students began to re-congregate, and slowly, whatbecame known as “Tent City” began to take shape. Other student organizationsbegan bringing in tents, and dozens of students began making the Quad a spacewhere people were free to study, play Frisbee, sleep, talk, laugh, sing, andwatch movies together, and most importantly, communicate SWS’s demands and theadministration’s official position with anyone who wanted to become informed.For the next six days and five nights, Tent City became a wonderful place.Faculty, staff, and students who were unable to join us came by and dropped offbagels, cookies, and even hot homemade meals. What was most unexpected,however, is that news of this safe space also traveled through Emory’scafeterias and coffee shops, and Sodexo workers began making late night andearly morning visits to share their experiences at Emory and to get updates onthe President’s response. When we saw workers out on the other side of the Quadpreparing the stage for graduation ceremonies, we asked them if and when theyneeded us to move. They told us that we weren’t in the way and that we couldeasily stay through Wednesday, April 27th.
On Monday, April 25th,our sixth day on the Quad, we decided to hold an informal meeting to strategizefor the upcoming week. Then, unexpectedly, at around 6:30pm, Vice PresidentGary Hauk approached our meeting accompanied by grounds crew members and toldus we had “five minutes” to remove our things and evacuate the Quad. What hadtaken six days to build- a makeshift home with ten tents, food stations, andpeople’s overnight belongings and schoolwork- was supposed to be removed infive minutes. As SWS was never informed in the six days of being on the Quadthat it was restricted property or that the Tent City was in violation offacility usage policies, we asked Vice President Hauk why we were beingremoved. He then presented us with a questionable document that stated auniversity policy that prevented us from being on the Quad. Within moments ofthis initial notification, the grounds crew workers were instructed to move in,and they began disassembling tents and forcibly removing students’ personalproperty along with the tents. We were all very confused and requested that webe given the opportunity to remove our own belongings. The grounds crew wasinstructed to stop dismantling for the time being while students gathered theirthings. An Emory Law School alumnus who was present read over the document thatVice President Hauk had provided and noted how the policy did not apply.Conversations concerning the legality of forced removal took up much of thetime between 7:00pm and 7:45pm. During this time, grounds crew membersproceeded to dismantle all but three remaining tents. President Wagner’s claimin his public letter that “studentswere given every invitation on Monday evening to move their tents and otherbelongings on their own” and that there was “a clear choice on the part of thestudents” cannot be considered true statements. We were given several conflictingdemands: first, we were told to leave the grass; then to just leave the tents;then we were told there would not be consequences if the tents were removed andstudents stayed on the grass. It was approximately 7:45pm when students noticedthat several Emory Police cars had pulled up and approximately 15-20 officers wereat the scene. To us, the presence of so many police appeared again to be anexcessive show of force to a peaceful gathering of students who were concernedabout the well being of fellow community members- the people who serve us food.
All of the students present werefaced with a decision: leave in the face of unnecessary aggression andinconsistent demands, or stand our ground and continue to ask the questionsthat deserved honest answers. Most of the undergrads, faced with finals thefollowing day, left the tents and joined in a large circle to support anyonewho decided to stay. I soon found myself in the company of six others, three otherEmory grad students and three brave students from Georgia State and GeorgiaTech who had joined our Tent City. They too, have Sodexo on their campuses andhave likewise heard from workers about their mistreatment, and wanted to show solidarityin our efforts. A thousand things came to my mind- I had been at Emory for morethan half of my adult life, I’d taught more than 40 students on this campus asa graduate instructor, I’d served on the President’s Commission on Race andEthnicity, I had led a health and human rights organization for three years, Ihad sung with choirs at numerous fundraising dinners for Campaign Emory behindPresident Wagner, and most importantly, I had developed friendships withhundreds of my fellow students, my professors, secretaries, janitors, busdrivers, security guards at the library, and food service workers. I loved thiscommunity. I did not want to go to jail. President Wagner testified that hisdecision to arrest us was one of the hardest decisions of his professionalcareer. President Wagner received his PhD in 1984, the year I was born. I wasnow at Emory trying to receive mine. It is fair to say that my decision to sitdown and link arms with six other students as we watched armed policemen andwomen approach our flimsy green tent was the hardest decision of my life. Withthe same voice with which I wholeheartedly sang to encourage donors to givegenerously to Emory University, I began singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
Many of us have seen the videos. Wewere seven students sitting in a circle, singing to keep our spirits up. Myfriend Joe, a graduate student in Philosophy, was on his knees praying. He wasthe first one the police pulled out of the tent and put in handcuffs. The nextwas Andrea, a second year graduate student in Public Health. I was third. Mikewas next, he’s a grad student at Georgia Tech studying computer science.Amariah was the fifth student removed, a student from Georgia State who isfighting another battle against budget cuts at public universities. Roger andChris were the last two students. Two grown men fully embracing as the policecame to separate them. We were all handcuffed and put in the back seats of thesquad cars. I happened to be buckled up. Andrea and Amariah were not. In threeseparate cars, the seven of us were driven to the DeKalb County Jail. Wearrived at approximately 8:30pm. The four men entered the prison in one door,the three of us women in another. We would not see each other again until noonthe following day. Andrea, Amariah, and I were put in a small jail cell withabout 18 other women. The next fourteen hours were the longest fourteen hours Ihave ever experienced. A few of us sat on metal benches, the rest on theconcrete floor. An overflowing toilet sat open in the corner of the cell. Thebright fluorescent lights and the loud bang of the mechanical door that made usjump every time it opened or closed prevented even a minute of sleep. I waitedsix hours to make my first phone call. I was pulled out of the cell to give myfingerprints five separate times. I had my second mug shot taken at 3:30am. Iwas given a TB skin test and underwent a pregnancy test. On the other side, themen had to strip naked, squat, and cough. It was extremely cold, and most of uswere wearing t-shirts or tank tops. Yet, somehow we managed to have greatconversations with the other women, who were all young women of color. Together, we shared in laughter, storytelling, and grouphuddles to keep warm. Seeing so much beauty and humanity in a space designedspecifically to de-humanize and suppress reignited a fire deep within me. Yet,in the extreme highs and lows of emotion I felt throughout that night, all Icould think was, “So this is where courageous inquiry leads.”
By 2:00pm on Tuesday, all seven of uswere either back on campus or at our homes. We gathered together again at6:30pm to give an informal press conference and vigil at the steps of theadministration building. The support from the Emory community has beentremendous. All of us have received emails and letters of support, mainlypertaining to our arrests. One professor shared with us this story:
On the way to the vigil tonight, I tried to explainto my nine-year old son that we were going to a "pep rally" at Emorybecause two of my students, Andrea Nicholls and Roger Sikes, were arrested lastnight. They were opposed to a University "policy" and weretrying to get Emory's "Principal" to change the policy and improveconditions for some of the people who work at Emory. When they hadtrouble having a satisfactory discussion with the Principal, they decided topitch tents on the quad and demonstrate peacefully until they could get hisattention.
"So why were they arrested, Mama?"
"Do you know what trespassing means,sweetie?"
"Yeah, its like if I go into somebody else'shouse without being invited."
"Right, after 5 days, the Principaldecided to end the demonstration by asking the police to remove them from thequad and charge them with Criminal Trespassing."
"But Mama, howcan they trespass at their own school?"
While many people, including myself, arewondering the same question, the students who were arrested did not getarrested just for the thrill or infamy of getting arrested. We were arrestedbecause we were asking the questions that the administration doesn’t want us toask. We were arrested because our presence was bringing attention to Emory’sglaring hypocrisy of claiming ethical engagement with the world while throwingin jail those students who seek only to ensure the human rights of all membersof our campus community. This hypocritical stance can no longer sustain itself.People are now beginning to ask, if Emorytreats its own students with such disrespect and unwarranted aggression, how dothey treat workers for whom they claim no responsibility?
The ninety-year old Reverend Joseph Lowery,known as the “Dean of the Civil Rights Movement” and third president of theSouthern Christian Leadership Conference, wrote a letter in support of theefforts of Students and Workers in Solidarity. In his letter, which was readaloud by Helen Butler on his behalf at the press conference, he said:
“While I cannot be here today in person, I am with you in spirit. I amproud of the courage you show to stand with the people that prepare and serveyou food every day. With each new generation, the students continue thetradition we started in the Civil Rights Movement not to rest until there isjustice for all. President Wagner, I call upon you to uphold your moralresponsibility not only for the students, but for the entire community. Onceagain, in times of moral upheaval, it is students that point us toward theright course of action.”
On behalf of the students who were arrested on Monday and the members of SWS, I encourage the Emory community to direct itsconcern and attention to the issue for which SWS has always existed: to ensurethat Emory extends its ethical leadership to address the inequalities of ourcurrent sub-contracted labor policy. As a community, we must thereforerespectfully, but forcefully demand that President Wagner:
1) Attend agood faith meeting with representatives of Students and Workers in Solidarityin order to identify reasonable and immediate measures to increase equitybetween direct and subcontracted employees. Such measures could include:
a. Eliminationof the extra $150 that “non-Emory employees, contractors or vendors” must payin annual parking rates as compared to salaried faculty and administrators oncampus; or make the MARTA passes provided free of charge to Emory employeesavailable to subcontracted employees, or at least at Emory’s discountedpurchase rate of $15 per month.
b. Establishmentof a President’s Commission on the Status of Labor that is on par with thethree established commissions, in which subcontracted workers would have aninstitutional mechanism where their voices and concerns would be given duerespect and consideration.
2) Implementa Labor Code of Conduct that would apply to a new contract with Sodexo or analternate food service provider. Georgetown University’s Just Employment Policy could serve as a model of a newsubcontracted labor policy. In the case where Emory changes food serviceproviders, all current Sodexo employees must be rehired, as is common practicein the university food service industry.
3) Considercutting institutional ties with Sodexo in light of numerous reports of itshuman rights violations around the world and its unacceptable behavior at Emoryin the past that puts Emory’s reputation into disrepute.
4) Participatein a public forum with four representatives of SWS to address steps Emory willtake to ensure that the treatment of subcontracted workers are in line withEmory’s high ethical standards. The Global Health Department at the School ofPublic Health has expressed interest in hosting such a forum before the 2011Commencement ceremonies.
I extend my most heartfelt thanks for the community’s concern for the health andwell being of us seven students during one of the most trying days of ourlives. I invite the community to direct that same compassion to all of theworkers on this campus whose hard work too often goes unnoticed. Together, allof us are Emory. The creation of a community where every member’s human rightsand dignity are respected is indeed where courageous inquiry shall one day lead.
|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on April 23, 2011 at 12:11 PM||comments (0)|
Dear Emory Community,
This is an urgent issue that everyone in our community must know about.
Please forward widely.
Join our facebook event to recieve future up to the minute updates as this issue further unfolds, http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=149115475155521&index=1
In the interest of open community dialouge, I am writing on behalf of SWS to update the Emory community on the ongoing efforts by students to kick sodexo off of our campus and end inequity between sub-contracted and directly hired employees. We have set up tents on the Quad and will be available there indefinitly to provide information to any interested community members until this issue is addressed in good faith and in a transparent fashion.
Last night a peaceful student sit-in that was publically supported and endorsed by Georgia Senator Vincent Fort and MLK's nephew and VP of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (MLK's civil rights organization), Isaac Farris, Jr. was ended after the Administration called over 10 Dekalb police cars, including a paddy wagon, and threatend to arrest 25 Emory students.
We believe this response to be an inappropriate and overwhelmingly disproportionate response to a peaceful demonstration on behalf of worker and human rights.
Equally or more troubling, however, is the Administration's deliberate and intentional attempt to misrepresent the intentions of the protest. On its website the administration claimed:
"Emory President James W. Wagner has issued a letter outlining the University’s position with regard to an ongoing dispute between the University’s food service company, Sodexo, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). This issue was the subject of a student rally and sit-in protest today at Emory." http://shared.web.emory.edu/emory/news/releases/2011/04/emory-statement-on-food-service-issue.html
This represents just the latest in a continuous effort by the administration and Sodexo to mispresent SWS as a pawn of union SEIU.
This characterization of our intentions or goals is patently false.
To clarify, our position has always been that we do not have any interest in any particular union (SEIU or anyone else) organizing Emory's campus food workers. We do not think that workers should have to unionize if they do not want to. We merely believe in the right for workers to have a work environment which does not make them feel as though they may be descriminated against for seeking better treatment (through whatever means they choose).
Our position has consistently been that we think our community should not tolerate the presence of a company on our campus which willingly uses intimidation tactics (whether they are technically legal or not) to create widespread fear of speaking out against abuse amoungst campus workers.If you dont take my word for it, this position has been published in many places:
1. Wheel editorial: http://www.emorywheel.com/detail.php?n=29708
2. Atlanta Journal-Constitution coverage of our sit-in: http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2011/04/20/emory-students-stage-peaceful-protest-outside-presidents-office/
3. I have also attached my speech notes (note not exact transcript) from the rally held prior to the sit-in where I comprehensively outlined SWS's arguments for why Sodexo does not belong on our campus.
Please note that in none of these documents, nor anywhere else, do we ever advocate a position on the desireability of SEIU. Our position has consistently been about Sodexo and its intimidation and mistreatment of our campus' workers and its workers around the world. The administration and Sodexo continue to deny the public testimony of our campus' food workers negative experiences with the company.
This is just the most recent way in which true ethical dialouge has been blocked by Sodexo and the Administration.Other instances of Sodexo and administration deception and evasion of dialouge:
1. Censorship of SWS signage (an issue which the administration still has yet to provide an explanation for): http://sws-emory.webs.com/apps/blog/entries/show/6741847-censorship-on-campus-sws-signs-removed-by-administraton
2. Misleading Wheel editorial written by Sodexo marketing managers, where they pretended to be hourly food workers and claimed that they do not need student support because that they loved their jobs. http://www.emorywheel.com/detail.php?n=28104
3. This deception did not go unnoticed. Three actual Emory food worker's corageously reponsed, calling out the deception and publically testifying to Sodexo's the mistreatment and itimidation. http://www.emorywheel.com/detail.php?n=28188
4. Letter signed by 78 faculty members, published in the Wheel, calling out the Administration's unwillingness to address the issue http://www.emorywheel.com/detail.php?n=28455
5. SWS has been met with the administration in closed door meetings 9 times over the last year and half. Most of the problems we have highlighted have been ignored or denied without investigation. There has been zero progress and there is little reason to believe that the administration is committed to addressing the issue now.
6. Denial has continued even in the face of two recent human rights reports by the independent organizations TransAfrica Forum and Human Rights Watch which corroborate the problems SWS has observed on our own campus.
What you can do/what is happening next?
We will have an indefinite presence on the Quad. Please feel free to join us on the quad with your own tent or just come hang out and eat some food and snacks.
Contact me via learnlink, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or post to our Kick Out Sodexo Rally facebook event wall for more information or with any questions.
This issue will not go away. We, SWS in solidarity with the SCLC and many other groups are commited to see it through as long as it takes.
|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on April 17, 2011 at 1:20 AM||comments (0)|
|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on April 16, 2011 at 11:15 PM||comments (0)|
When: 6:30 pm Wednesday April 6, 2011
Where: White Hall Room 206
|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on April 16, 2011 at 10:33 PM||comments (0)|
The Emory Wheel-Campus Life
-Fri. April 8, 2011
Sodexo Workers Discuss Challenges
by Roshani Chokshi
|Posted by Students and Workers in Solidarity on April 16, 2011 at 10:21 PM||comments (0)|
The Emory Wheel-Editorial
-Fri. April 15, 2011
On Sodexo, What Do We Believe?
By Alex Zavell and Ross Gordon