Pizza at Usdan. Smoothies at Red and Black. Breakfast pails at Swings. Iced lattes at Pi Café.
Behind it all, full-time and student dining workers make sure that everyone on campus eats. Together, we fry, mix, toss, slice, wrap, brew, and blend. We wipe down counters, do dishes, and mop floors.
We all need our jobs. We work to afford the necessities of life, from paying tuition to supporting our families. Yet, Wesleyan has not treated all food service workers on our campus equally. This spring, two groups of food service workers employed by two different food service employers launched campaigns to unionize: student workers employed at Bon Appétit dining locations and workers employed by Swings, and Red and Black Cafe. The University agreed to a fast and peaceful process for student workers at Bon Appétit, but when management at Red and Black Cafe, and Swings began a concerted union-busting campaign, including legally indefensible tactics like captive audience meetings, the university stood by in silence.
My name is Rory Dolan, and I’ve worked at Swings for over three years.
On its best days, working there makes me feel excited and connected to my community. I also need the income to afford food and utilities and to fully participate here at Wesleyan.
I signed up for three shifts this year. Last semester, I came in for my Monday shift and management told me to go home. A few weeks later, I had two hours cut from my other shifts. Suddenly I went from working nine to four hours a week. I needed these hours and had already structured my schedule around them, so I couldn’t just pick up more shifts. I also found out that new employees I had trained only weeks ago did not have their hours cut. I was blindsided, and my attempts to communicate with management came to nothing. I had no means by which to defend myself, so I had no choice: I had to pick up a second job. This made me feel like neither my work nor my well-being mattered to Swings. Above all it made me feel powerless: there was nothing I could do.
I want a union so that no other workers will ever have to go through what I did. Management can try to make it sound complicated, but a union is actually simple: all workers deserve a say on our working conditions. I didn’t have that say when my hours were slashed, and I’m graduating in May, so I won’t ever have it. Still, I’m fighting for our union because I want protections for all the workers who will come after me.
As management has carried out their union-busting campaign, my coworkers and I have called on Wesleyan to intervene. We visited President Roth, and he locked his door and called PSafe on us—twice. This tells me that my work doesn’t matter to this school and neither do I. Wesleyan has the power to require management to follow a fast and neutral process. If the university really cares about food service workers, why hasn’t it?
My name is Irene Jackson, and I’m a cashier at Usdan.
I’ve fought for our union for years because our contract changed my life: my son had childhood leukemia, and without our excellent health plan, I wouldn’t have been able to care for him. My co-workers and I make an average of $31.85 an hour with 100% employer-paid healthcare and a great pension. Our union has allowed me to raise my children in a safe and stable home, something too few working families can say, particularly Black families like mine who have been historically shut out of opportunities.
By allowing union-busting to happen at Red and Black Cafe and WesWings, Wesleyan has put all of that at risk. Right now, only about 50% of dining service jobs at Wesleyan are union. The University can readily undermine our excellent standard by outsourcing food service to lower-wage businesses like WesWings. If more workers unionize, all workers on campus will have more power to bargain for what we need. Wesleyan could easily resolve this labor crisis by requiring management at WesWings, and the Red and Black Café to follow a fast, neutral process. This choice would bring us closer to a 100% union food service on campus, ensuring that workers like me have the power to win a high standard of living for decades to come. This choice would change the lives of hundreds of student workers and working families in Middletown.
This choice is clearly the right one. Wesleyan still has the chance to make it. Will it?
Rory Dolan ’23 and Irene Jackson