Aidan White ’23 is a sociology major at the College. Email Aidan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.
The College of William and Mary’s dining hall workers have demanded a fair process to decide whether to form a union, and they deserve the full-throated support of our entire campus community.
The university contracts dining services through Sodexo, a massive international corporation that manages cafeterias in 55 countries around the world. Even with the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sodexo made $682 million in profits in 2021, which was actually an increase from the previous year. Despite Sodexo’s high profits, anyone who has ever chatted with dining hall workers about their lives outside of the College knows how many are living paycheck to paycheck or working second jobs in order to make ends meet on their low non-union wages. Things got worse when the pandemic hit and Sodexo decided not to pay dining hall workers any regular wages during the College’s ’s extended winter break. Sodexo chose to make our already underpaid dining hall workers go two months without regular pay in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis, not to mention the holiday season.
No wonder our friends in the dining halls are discussing unionizing! Forming a union would allow workers to build collective strength and solidarity that they can use to negotiate directly with their employers for better pay, better benefits and better working conditions. Unions return power in the workplace to the people who actually make it possible for the company — and, in this case, the university — to exist: the workers. Without dining hall workers, there would be no Sodexo and there would be no William and Mary. If dining hall workers decide to form a union, they will finally get the respect and the power that they deserve.
The College has its own exploitative history that makes our support for the dining hall workers’ union even more urgent. This university survived on the labor of enslaved Black people for almost 170 years, and to this day the overwhelming majority of workers in William and Mary dining halls are Black. Improving the working conditions of the majority-Black service workforce on this majority-white campus is a concrete way for the College to address its history. Anyone who has ever expressed a commitment to healing the wounds of the College’s past or supporting diversity, equity and inclusion measures should see that backing the dining hall workers’ union is an extension of that promise. They should see that on this campus and across the country, worker’s rights are racial justice.
Last week’s student rally in support of the dining hall workers’ union was an unambiguous success. Hundreds of students made it clear that we are ready to support the workers however we can, even if that means confronting Sodexo management directly to demand that they remain neutral and allow workers to decide whether to unionize. But the fight is not over, and we must continue to make the company and the College hear the thunder of our pro-union, pro-worker chorus. We must also ensure that dining hall workers see our support so that they do not lose hope as they push for a fair process from Sodexo. As the enormous crowd at the rally chanted: you feed us, we’ve got your backs.