After dining facilities at the University shut down last month in response to the global health pandemic, Aramark — a University dining service provider — laid off many of its contracted workers with no notice or severance pay. This week, University President Jim Ryan announced a plan to help these furloughed workers at the University, creating an emergency fund of $2 million to assist them in light of growing outrage and community support for laid off workers. This move is certainly a step in the right direction from the University, as these workers need financial assistance after unexpectedly losing their jobs amidst a global pandemic. However, going forward, the manner in which Aramark treated its workers should compel the University to reevaluate its relationship with contracted companies. This is not the first time that Aramark has demonstrated a lack of care for its employees, and these actions go against the University’s stated values.
Moreover, this announcement further demonstrates the power of student and community activism — even while most students and faculty are away from Grounds. Although students and community members deserve to be applauded for their efforts in creating positive change at the University, they ultimately should not have been required to fight for weeks to create this change.
Reporting from local news publications — C-Ville Weekly and The Cavalier Daily — first brought attention to the abhorrent way in which Aramark treats its workers by including the perspectives of those who were laid off. From these reports, the public was made aware of the “mounting bills and uncertain futures” that former Aramark employees now face, as well as the lack of respect that Aramark employees at the University and beyond feel from their employer.
Moreover, the outrage of community activists and students played a significant role in the University’s eventual decision to create its emergency fund to help furloughed workers. Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies and director of the University’s Center for Media and Citizenship, created a fundraiser to support contracted workers at the University who recently lost their jobs, raising over $30,000 in less than a week with more than 600 people donating to the fund, including students, faculty and community members. Multiple student activists also created a comprehensive list of demands to present to the University, in part addressing the manner in which Aramark treated its employees. Numerous student organizations — including Student Council and the Young Democratic Socialists at UVA — called on the University to support these employees. These efforts by the University community and local news outlets should not go unnoticed.
Still, it is the University’s responsibility to advocate and fight for its own workers, even if they are contracted employees. The onus should not solely be on community members and students to make positive change. In fact, the University often uses the face of Kathy McGruder, known as Miss Kathy by students — an employee of U.Va. Dining through Aramark — as a selling point for the University. However, when Aramark employees were furloughed, it took the efforts of Lloyd Bramble, a University alumnus, to create a fundraiser to support Miss Kathy during these difficult times while the University instead opted to remain silent.
This is a scenario that has become far too common at the University — students call on the University administration to effect meaningful change in our community. Issues like providing a living wage to University employees or reimbursing students for housing and dining costs can largely be attributed to the fight from students — rather than the University taking action on its own. The University is clearly listening, and community activists should be applauded for their tireless efforts in fighting for positive change.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors and their Senior Associate. The board can be reached at email@example.com.