Students & Workers in Solidarity

Building student and worker power at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

An Open Letter From Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS) 

Dear Friends,

After more than 14 months since Emory University ordered our arrests, we have recently been notified that a DeKalb County State Court judge has placed the matter on the dead docket. This means there will be no further prosecution of our case at this time.

This is a moment of great relief, filled with gratitude for the many family members, friends, professors, and workers who have supported us throughout the last year as we dealt with the stress of facing criminal prosecution for nonviolent dissent on our own university campus. However, we remain focused on the well-being of contracted workers at Emory, who continue to hold a second-class position in our community and face violations of their human rights during the school year and summer months.

Contracted workers are not entitled to the same benefits and privileges that Emory employees enjoy. There is not a space at Emory where they can participate in decision-making on matters that impact their lives or any institution at Emory that is responsible for how they are treated. Contracted workers do not have access to free MARTA passes through the “Emory Transit Subsidy Program” that other workers at Emory are entitled to. The least paid workers on our campus should not bear the heaviest financial burden of getting to and from Emory.

For most contracted workers, the end of the academic year signals a time of impending hardship, as they are effectively laid off for the summer. This temporary and seasonal nature of work, created by the structure of the academic calendar, makes contracted workers especially vulnerable to intimidation or abuse in the workplace. If they speak out, they risk not being rehired for the next school year. Sodexo’s mandatory closed-door, anti-union meetings at Emory’s campus facilities are a clear example of such intimidation. Such practices of intimidation threatens workers’ rights “to just and favorable conditions of work” and “to form and join unions for the protection of their interests” as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Emory must ensure that all workers on its campus are able to work in safe environments free of intimidation or fear of reprisal.

When contracted workers are laid off during the summer, finding temporary work to support themselves and their families is particularly difficult, especially in our current economy. Until this year, Emory’s contracted workers had access to unemployment insurance to help keep them afloat. However, new state-level regulations now deny workers at educational institutions eligibility for unemployment insurance during the summer. A Sodexo employee alerted SWS members about this change. She described how she and her coworkers were devastated, asking themselves “how are we going to live?” This new statewide policy also violates workers’ human rights, as the UDHR clearly states that “everyone has the right… to protection against unemployment.”

The hardship and undue suffering experienced by those who serve food or provide other essential services at Emory should concern all of us. True, Emory itself is not directly intimidating contracted workers, laying them off every summer or holiday break, or denying them access to unemployment insurance. However, if contracted workers provide for the Emory community and Emory in turn benefits from their labor, Emory is ethically bound to ensuring they are treated with dignity and respect. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: Few are guiltybut all are responsible.

After more than two and a half years of investigating these issues and having dialogues with the community about possible solutions, SWS’s recommendations to 1) institute a President’s Commission on Class and Labor, 2) implement a Ethical Code of Conduct, and 3) make free MARTA passes available to all workers at Emory without discrimination, have either been ignored, dismissed, or only partially adopted. Specifically, in response to SWS pressure, Emory administrators established a temporary Committee on Class and Labor. While the Committee is temporary and has limited transparency, it is a promising first step. We hope their recommendations, due later this summer, will include the establishment of a permanent body to ensure workers’ rights and the immediate inclusion of contracted workers in the Emory Transit Subsidy Program so that all workers have access to free MARTA passes.

A permanent institutional body, accountable to the Emory community, would set and implement new policies like the elimination of closed-door anti-union meetings on Emory’s campus and investigate the adequacy of Emory’s “living wage” standard in light of significant periods of unemployment and denied access to unemployment insurance. In short, it could help ensure fair and equitable labor standards for all employees at Emory.

Throughout the life of SWS, in our highest moments of hope and our lowest moments of frustration, we have always found inspiration and strength in the bravery and persistence of the workers on this campus and the continued vigilance, care, and wisdom of hundreds of faculty supporters. The establishment of a permanent committee and the execution of its mandate will only be successful if we continue to work together and lift Emory up to its mission to apply “knowledge in the service of humanity.”

Our sincere thanks,

Students and Workers in Solidarity

Keep in touch! Email us at, or find us on Facebook.Wondering how you can help? Contact Emory President James Wagner: james.wagner@emory.edu404-727-6013, and encourage him to make free, subsidized MARTA passes available to contracted workers (just as they are made available to other Emory employees) and form a permanent Committee on Class and Labor.

Wheel Coverage of Emory Prosecution of Students


Protesters Plead Not Guilty, Await Possible Trial

By Roshani Chokshi and Jordan FriedmanPosted: 04/12/2012
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Christine Hines/Staff
Graduate students Laura Soltis and Roger Sikes present during the Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS) press conference regarding the arrests of seven individuals last spring for trespassing on the Quad.
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.”


Where Courageous Inquiry Leads...

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 clarify who we are as members of Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS), the principles we stand for, and why we are engaging in collective action. [Continue Reading]

Emory 7 (Members of SWS) get arrested for standing up to Sodexo


Photos on the Emory Wheel


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