Rafael Snell-Feikema ’18 and Aharon Logue ’18 organized an interest meeting for a workers solidarity campaign in Blair 201 Wednesday, April 8. The meeting focused on securing higher wages for Sodexo employees on campus.
The group alleged that the food services corporation will be able to fire employees without warning over the summer and offers employees meager ten-cent raises. Meeting attendees discussed the company’s supposed reputation for union busting and intimidating workers into taking on more hours.
Snell-Feikema expressed his belief that students at the College of William and Mary often overlook social justice issues closer to home.
“We’re a campus that likes to think of itself as very liberally-oriented and politically active, but we have very little actual direct action,” Snell-Feikema said. “We have an environmental group that does great work, but other than that we have advocacy groups that basically table and will have an event that does philanthropy and we don’t care about problems that are happening on our campus. We’re a lot of talk. I felt like this was a way to fix that.”
The group plans to promote campus worker appreciation as part of their campaign. In Snell-Feikema and Logue’s presentation, the organizers said that they hope to foster better connections between students and workers. They also said they will avoid taking any action without consent from the workers.
Brendan Thomas ’18 said that he decided to attend the meeting after befriending some Sodexo workers.
“I think that the workers are sort of faceless here,” Thomas said. “I always try to say hi to the people who are working. Most [students] don’t. One time I was walking by and I said hi to [a worker] in the morning and he said, ‘You know, that was really nice, no one says hi to us.’ And I was like, you know what, you’re right, people should say hi to you and people should know who you are and that you’re a person … they have a terrible job and it’s not helped by the fact that we don’t care for them or help them.”
The College has experienced two different living wage campaigns in past years. The first campaign took place from 1999 to 2001 under College President Timothy Sullivan. Student activists and members of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee sought to increase the salary for College housekeepers. Meeting organizers said that this campaign eventually lost steam and only achieved a small raise.
Snell-Feikema said that the 2010 campaign ultimately had the opposite problem — its methods were too radical. In his presentation, he noted that these protesters alienated campus with their aggressive protest tactics and targeted the wrong person — College President Taylor Reveley, who ultimately had little say over the salaries of the hospitality workers. Tensions escalated until April 20, 2011, when fifteen members of the coalition occupied Reveley’s office for sixteen hours, according to a 2011 Flat Hat article by former Flat Hat Online Editor Walter Hickey. A rally of around 45 students took place around the Brafferton. Police arrested five of the protesters for trespassing after they were ordered to leave by Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D ’06.
At the interest meeting, organizers established the idea of balancing tactics in their campaign, in order to avoid being either too radical or too complacent.
The organizers also noted that they hope to collaborate with and learn from other anti-Sodexo campaigns throughout the country.
“In the context of a college in which you … interact with all these workers on a daily basis, the dining workers, the hospitality workers, and they’re all such nice people, we should very much be able to … understand that these worker struggles are struggles that we could also face, and these are people who could very easily be our friends, and in some cases are our friends,” Snell-Feikema said. “They deserve to have proper wages, proper benefits.”
Attendee Emma Chacon ’18 said she came to the meeting to express solidarity, as she worked in food service for about two years.
“Any kind of impact that we could have whatsoever would be amazing,” Chacon said. “I’d like to be able to say I’ve done something to start a movement.”
When asked for a comment, Sodexo representative Jeff McClure noted that he was not aware of the new organization.