‘I can’t even afford to buy the food I make’: Student workers discuss Aramark’s policies

USAS has been fighting for workers’ rights since 2013. They printed and distributed this information at their meeting on March 5, 2020.

USAS has been fighting for workers’ rights since 2013. They printed and distributed this information at their meeting on March 5, 2020.

Holly Liptak Reporter

Students discussed grievances including the cost of living as a student, the lack of nutritional information in dining halls and the mistreatment of Aramark employees at the dining services town hall meeting Wednesday night.

Aramark student employees are paid $8.70 an hour, which the United Students Against Sweatshops deemed not a livable wage. USAS organized the meeting to encourage students and faculty to speak about their concerns on the current student wages and mistreatment of student workers.

Full-time Kent State dining hall employees were able to answer the crowd’s questions. They took the complaints into consideration and plan to pass them onto the school. Representatives from Aramark were not present at the meeting.

Junior fashion design major and USAS member Victor Barratt presented information on the rates of minimum wage and tuition since 1970. Since then, the minimum wage has multiplied by seven, while the price of tuition has multiplied by 24, he said.

“[Aramark] lied to us in the past,” Barratt said. “They said they were going to increase the wage by 25 cents per semester and they still haven’t done that. The minimum wage went up, but they didn’t actually increase the [student] wage.”

One student, who asked to remain anonymous due to her contract with Aramark, said the food is being sold for more than the workers are being paid. A dinner at Eastway costs $12.50. A student employee is paid $8.70 an hour.

“I can’t even afford to buy the food I make and serve to students,” she said.

The lack of nutritional information was another common concern. Student workers are often not given the information about the meals they are making, so they cannot relay that information to consumers. 

“This is not an accessible campus in any sense of the term,” said Ezra Silkes, sophomore theatre design major. “It is not built for anyone with any type of dietary restrictions in the slightest.”

Aramark, a multinational corporation worth more than $8 billion, has an exclusive contract with Kent for 8-10 years. The company is also associated with 31 prisons in Ohio, 500 in the U.S. total. Reports of the food served to inmates being unfit for consumption was another topic of discussion. Students agreed they do not want to attend a university associated with such atrocities.

Sophomore theatre design major Graham Callahan said they knew someone who had been in a juvenile detention center that served Aramark food.

“He told me about how when he poured milk in his cereal there would be chunks in it, how the food was not fit for human consumption, and that’s what they were feeding incarcerated juveniles,” Callahan said.

Students are now hired as Aramark employees, not Kent State employees, so any concerns are taken up with the human resources branch of Aramark, which students said does not work to solve their problems. 

“We really try to organize people around their common interests of justice,” Barratt said. “[USAS] is on a campaign to raise the campus minimum wage and get Aramark off our campus.”

Holly Liptak covers crisis, recovery, hunger and help. Contact her at [email protected]t.edu.