USAS fights for lesser known sect of civil rights

by Rachel Wilson | Staff Writer

Among other issues, USAS seeks to promote higher wages for food workers like those who work for Sodexo. (“Fast food strike and protest for a $15/hour minimum wage at the University of Minnesota” by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Many members of our society pay little attention to the following questions: How do you pay your bills? Are you treated fairly at your job? Do you have job and/or income security?  

Everyone in this country has the right to vote, to speak freely and to be protected from religious persecution, on paper at least. However, many often forget one group of people in this country that continues to face institutionalize oppression: workers.  

According to the Census Bureau, less than half of Americans have an associate’s degree or higher. These people often go into fields like retail, service, manufacturing or gig work. These employees, essential to the function of any company, often do not make enough to support themselves, let alone accumulate savings. 

Everyone needs to be employed in order to pay the bills. But are employees always paid what they deserve? No. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual “Out of Reach” report, full time minimum wage workers cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment in 95% of US counties. 

Enter USAS, a newly-charted club on campus seeking to fix this problem. USAS, or United Students Against Sweatshops, fights for labor and union rights on campuses around the country. Recently, the Whitworth chapter of USAS has turned its attention to improving the working conditions at Sodexo, the dining services company contracted by the university. Demands include: opportunities for advancement or raises, chef control over prepared meals, and equal pay for disabled workers, who are paid less than minimum wage, in accordance with federal law.  

Cornelius Cambronero, an officer of USAS, says that worker’s rights are often disregarded.  

“I think it’s a form of injustice that people try to pretend is invisible,” Combronero said. “The first thing you think about when you get a job is ‘Am I going to get paid? Am I going to be taken care of?’ But you don’t really think about the conditions that you have to go through.” 

In my opinion, USAS is a vital source on campus for opening eyes to the mistreatment of workers. Not only are they fighting for worker’s rights right here on campus, but they are educating their membership about how to organize and fight for union and labor rights. They are amplifying the voices of workers who don’t often get a chance to safely speak out about injustice. 

Sodexo workers are essential to our campus, some of them even Whitworth students themselves, and they have grievances. They anonymously share their feelings about the toxic work environment and their desire for adequate pay, and USAS members are listening to and fighting with them. 

In the end, USAS’ goal is to fight for and win the rights Sodexo workers deserve, because having a healthy work environment and adequate pay should be a right. Cambronero says that the best thing students can do to stay up to date and join the fight is to follow their instagram, @wu_usas.