This past Monday evening, students and faculty gathered in Stebbins 203 to listen to the stories of cafeteria workers from our own community. The workers’ panel, organized by the People’s Alliance for Worker Solidarity (P.A.W.S.) gave the workers’ voices a chance to be heard.
As many students know, in the spring, the food staff at Lesley University organized together with the goal of becoming a union, despite backlash from company managers. During that time, two union organizers working in the cafeteria were laid off and morale was low. But despite these setbacks, employees overcame the obstacles and on March 1st, they were officially recognized as a union. However, the fight for decent conditions and a living wage has only just begun for these workers.
“Alejandrina has been working here for 22 years and she still only makes $11 an hour. She tells me that she loves working for the students, but at this rate, she will never be able to retire,” said Jorge Paniaga, a driver and cook, one of the workers many who have fought for the union since its beginning. “I’m not just doing this for myself; I’m doing it for her. I’m doing it for all the people who will come in the future.”
Alejandrina Velez and her daughter Ana Martez both work for Bon Appétit, the contracted food providing service that hires (and fires) the cafeteria workers at Lesley. Ana was quoted this past semester saying, “I love being a cook – and a mother – because I’m constantly learning. I want to watch my kids grow up, but it’s hard to find quality time when I work two jobs just to feed them.”
Based on a Living Wage Calculator designed by MIT, the cost of living in Cambridge, MA (including the cost of food, medical care, child care, housing, etc.) for a single parent with two children requires an hourly wage of $32.84. The typical hourly wage for a Bon Appétit worker at Lesley is $11.26.
Bon Appétit’s company motto is, “Food services for a sustainable future,” but the poor working conditions and low wages are hardly sustainable for the staff that makes their company possible. In order to achieve economic justice, the workers need the full support of the entire Lesley community; students, teachers and administrators alike. If you want to stay up to date with the workers’ struggle, make sure to join the P.A.W.S. Facebook page or email Theresa Powers at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the mailing list.