Kent State USAS, student workers celebrate May Day with on campus demonstration

Kent State’s chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) held a protest and celebration march across campus Tuesday as part of May Day, also known as International Workers Day.

USAS is a national campus labor organization that works to “protect human rights and stop corporate abuse on campus and around the world,” according to the group’s page on the university’s website. The group defines a sweatshop as any workplace that practices worker exploitation.

The group gathered outside of their office in the Student Center and walked through campus carrying signs and balloons. They stopped at various dining halls along the way, before ending at Aramark’s offices in Kent Market 2, where they presented the balloons.

Along their path, some students cheered with the group, and others pulled out their phones to take pictures of the marchers.

Scotty McMaster II, an organizer of Tuesday’s event, said the demonstration was successful.

“Today was an awesome march. It seemed like folks around campus were really engaged and interested in what we have to say,” he said. “I hope that it makes people think about labor and about (exploitation).”

The march’s purpose was to protest unfair wages and working conditions, as well as to celebrate a recent victory on campus. Student workers collected 270 signatures on a petition asking Aramark to provide uniforms for student dining employees.

“At the beginning of the year, the Dining Services workers were told that they had to purchase non-slip shoes with very little time between that and their paycheck,” said Kimberly Johnson, another organizer of the demonstration. “Non-slip shoes were anywhere from about $35 to $60.”

Jeff Stone, the resident district manager for Aramark, said the company was already considering uniform options for the campus. Dining Services previously required student workers to purchase their own uniforms and later offered reimbursement.

“We were looking at this ahead of time anyway, going into the new year and trying to figure out what kind of uniforms were were going to have, how we were going to divide that across campus, and then how we could support our work staff to make sure they can have proper clean uniforms to be able to produce in a sanitary environment,” Stone said.

USAS contacted Stone via email to set up a meeting. After gathering logistical information, Aramark came to their decision late Friday. On Monday, USAS received an email stating that uniforms would be provided to them from now on.

The group brought the bundled balloons to Aramark’s office as a gift for their favorable decision.

McMaster said Tuesday’s demonstration was the start of an longer fight against worker exploitation.

“USAS is very happy with this victory,” he said, adding, “This is the very beginning of this campaign.”

Dylan Reynolds is a feature writer. Contact him at [email protected].

Olivia Eastly is a social media promoter. Contact her [email protected].