Dining hall workers come together at rally for higher wages
Bon Appétit employees spoke out Thursday at a Justice on the Menu campaign protest
March 28, 2013, 11:56 pm·
Amanda Suarez | DP
“The people, united, will never be defeated,” was the chant on College Green.
Excitement was palpable on Thursday morning as students, faculty, Bon Appétit employees and community members gathered to support and raise awareness about the Justice on the Menu campaign. Three workers made short speeches while Student Labor Action Project members encouraged passers-by and attendants to sign a petition calling on Penn President Amy Gutmann to support their campaign.
Justice on the Menu, which was launched Monday, aims to increase wages and the number of sick days for Bon Appétit dining hall workers.
The Bon Appétit workers are asking for the same wages and number of sick days as unionized food service workers who are employed by the University of Pennsylvania and not the food management company. The Bon Appétit workers — who are not part of any union — currently receive lower wages and fewer sick days.
Penny Jennewein, a College junior and longtime member of SLAP, estimates that a total of 250 people have signed the petition thus far.
The effect of having fewer benefits on their families was a common theme among the workers’ speeches.
Rabia Abdul, a worker who spoke at the rally, appealed to the crowd as a mother who works two jobs to support her children.
“The price of childcare is going up,” she said. “As a mother I feel like I’m not being paid enough.”
Troy Harris, another worker, also stressed the effects that low wages have on dining workers’ families.
“A lot of families suffered for years because we’re not getting paid enough,” he told the crowd.
According to Jennewein, though Bon Appétit’s workers do receive raises, they amount to mere pennies added to their low hourly wage.
“Some of the workers have worked here for eight to 10 years,” she said. “That’s a long time to commit themselves to Penn; but they get cent raises.”
After the rally on College Green, about 60 people marched to Houston Hall, chanting “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
They joined hands and briefly formed a circle in the middle of Houston Market before dispersing to attend class or hand out flyers.
People at the rally stressed that they felt a sense of community and collective optimism.
“I feel that these workers are just as much a part of the Penn community as I am,” said College sophomore Clare Menzel. “It makes me super sad they’re being treated this way.”
SLAP and the workers said that the dining hall workers who spoke out at the rally risk reprisals from their employer for taking part in the campaign.
“They threaten us with what will happen if we step forward to make astand.” Harris said. “We chose to make it right!”
As previously reported in The Daily Pennsylvanian, Bonnie Powell, Bon Appétit’s director of communications, said in an email that workers’ “continued employment with Bon Appétit is not in danger…”
A number of Philadelphia community members joined students and faculty on College Green.
Among the protesters was Fabricio Rodriguez, co-coordinator of the Philly Restaurant Opportunity Center, a group that works to improve wages for restaurant workers. Rodriguez heard about the event on Facebook and decided to come. “I’m an activist and heard these workers are speaking out and thought it was great,” he said.
“I think it’s a really beautiful thing to see students and workers come together,” said Sheila Maddali, a community member and Legal Coordinator at the Philly ROC.
“The people I work with … were intimidated of being … terminated but I was telling them the whole time that unity can accomplish anything. If we stick together we can accomplish anything,” said Kareem Wallace, a worker and organizer for the Justice on the Menu campaign.