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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Students push Western to “Shred the Contract” with Aramark

In a letter to the administration, students addressed Aramark’s history with underpaying its employees and attempting to prevent workers from organizing. // Photo by Roisin Cowan-Kuist

By Ashley Lockett

As Western’s 10-year contract ends with Aramark in 2021, students are rallying against its renewal.

The Students for Sustainable Food club’s Shred the Contract campaign petition has gained over 1,000 signatures.

With Aramark being one of the many corporations for food distribution for college campuses, along with Sodexo and Bon Appetit, concerns have been raised by students about its history across the nation.

In an open letter to the administration in 2017, Students for Sustainable Food addressed the issues they had with Aramark, such as its ties to the prison industry and mistreatment of employees.

According to the letter, “Aramark’s strong ties to the prison-industrial complex, lack of transparency and accountability and track record of labor exploitation do not reflect the beliefs and values of Western students, staff, faculty and administration.”

Junior Abby Ernest-Beck, a member of the Shred the Contract campaign, said a group of students, including her, first started out in  Students for Sustainable Food and has since branched out to form its own committee.

“We kind of realized it was bigger and the people who were interested in this campaign were not necessarily the same people who were interested in SSF, so it made sense to split off into two separate groups,” Ernest-Beck said. 

Since forming its own committee, Shred the Contract has reached out to university officials, including Director of University Residences Leonard Jones, and held seperate club meetings that are dedicated to the campaign’s cause. 

Although this campaign to separate from Aramark’s food system is relatively new at Western, the issue has struck chords with other universities around the nation, such as Florida International University where a student posted a petition calling for a change in food provider online over two years ago.  

Though there are other issues listed in the letter protesting Aramark at Western, the issue of the prison industrial complex that Aramark is said to participate in is one of the campaign’s main points of focus.

“[Aramark is] making money off this very problematic institution and then, in addition, the food they’re providing is very low-quality and causing a lot of health problems and human rights problems,” Ernest-Beck said. 

The treatment of Aramark’s employees is also questioned in the letter. The company has over 200,000 employees, according to its website. 

The letter to Western’s administration addressed the case of Ana Ebanks, who was fired from her 10-year job at Aramark after missing 40 minutes of work due to class, according to the petition’s webpage. 

According to the letter, Aramark has been documented to underpay their employees and attempt to prevent workers from organizing. 

Katy Vandewalker, a former Aramark employee at Western, said the company’s management is not held up to the standards it should be. 

Vandewalker said she wasn’t given thorough training and wasn’t told about taking the temperature of the food until about a month in. 

“I was pretty surprised I hadn’t been told that earlier,” Vandewalker said. 

She also said many co-workers would repeatedly arrive at work sick. 

“I know people came to work sick a lot,” Vandewalker said. “I had several co-workers who would talk about that all the time and they just sort of came to work sick because they didn’t want to have to ask to get their shift covered, because it was hard.” 

The Shred the Contract Campaign webpage encourages Western to start operating its own dining system when its deal with Aramark runs out in 2021. 

“That would be better because we would have a lot more flexibility with how we manage the dining system,” Ernest-Beck said. “There would be a lot more transparency and opportunity for student input.” 

Ernest-Beck said that the campaign officially started within the last year. The decision-making process for Western officials has yet to begin, Paul Cocke, director of communications and marketing, said in an email.

“A campus dining group composed of students, staff and faculty, chaired by Leonard Jones, director of University Residences, will organize and begin discussion 18 months out from the contract cancellation  – or February 2020,” Cocke said.

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