By Aya Elamroussi
Emma-Claire Martin has been fighting the food service facility Aramark since she was in the seventh grade. In middle school, Martin marched to a school board meeting with a power point presentation demanding healthier food from Aramark.
“We need more salads,” Martin said of her presentation.
Then, Martin left her suburban hometown of Rutledge, Pa to attend college.
“I come to college, and I see American University has Aramark, and I am like, ‘ugh, these guys.’” Martin added.
“Then I found out not serving healthy food wasn’t [Aramark’s] biggest injustice,” Martin said, referring to the company’s mistreatment of its workers. “It actually ran deeper; it was much more serious.”
Martin joined the Student-Worker Alliance in her freshman year of college. Her friend Rachel brought her to one of the meetings the campus-based organization held. Ever since then, Martin has been hooked.
The SWA is a social justice organization that advocates for worker rights at AU.
“The mission of the Student-Worker Alliance is to listen to the housing and dining workers on campus, their grievances, their complaints, what they want to be better,” Martin said. Martin added that SWA recognizes AU is the students’ home as well as all the faculty, professors, staff and workers’.
“This campus needs to be a safe and a welcoming space,” Martin said.
Now a junior studying film, religious studies and sexuality studies, Martin is the president of the SWA.
How SWA works
SWA meets with housing and dining staff, and they discuss workers’ concerns and plans of action to improve working conditions for workers. SWA takes actions such as boycotts, petition signing or protests. In the midst of SWA’s advocacy for workers, SWA ensures not to take away the workers’ voices.
“We work to make sure their voice is heard,” Martin said. “Our role is to empower [the workers].”
Martin added that AU is more inclined to listen to students’ voices more than the workers’.
“We are the sidekicks, and it so happens that our voice carries more weight in a lot of situations because it’s backed by money,” Martin said.
“We’re the ones giving [AU] money,” Martin added. “If the students are angry enough about an issue, it’s more likely to see change than if it’s just the workers.”
Martin said one example of the SWA advocacy for workers on campus is the organization’s mobilization for floor mats for Subway workers to stand on. Last year, SWA mobilized students to obtain mats that provide workers with a more comfortable working environment.
Although workers can go to their managers and voice their concerns, Martin said that problems can slip through the cracks in the hierarchy since there are no consequences for not giving workers what they want.
Consequences for the university arise when students are involved because that poses a threat to the university financially, Martin said.
“If you’re trying to make money, if you’re just trying to run a university, and you’re not particularly caring [about] the human rights issue,” Martin said, “there’s no real consequence.”
SWA is particularly important because student involvement allows workers to speak up about work place injustice. There’s a fear that if workers speak up, they might get fired or suffer other work place penalties, Martin said.
“That has definitely prevented a lot workers from speaking up,” Martin said. The SWA exists so that doesn’t happen. If workers speak out and get fired, SWA is determined to protest and boycott, Martin said. “We just want to be a safety net for [workers].”
Faith and activism
Martin said her social justice activism is deeply rooted in her religion, Christianity.
Martin joined the United Methodist Student Association her freshman year. During her time there, she became highly interested in the association’s social justice initiatives, and she also enjoyed the discussions on political activism.
“Jesus was a super activist,” Martin said. “A lot of the Bible talks about standing up for the underdog and being angry at injustice.”
“Jesus got mad when injustice was going on,” Martin said. She added that Jesus preached of not being greedy, of giving time, energy and money to people who need it.
“Because I am a Christian, I feel I would be a hypocrite if I wasn’t every day looking to be an activist, to be an organizer, to use my platform as someone who has privilege to help however I can.”
‘Everybody can participate’
Martin said that an easy way for everyone to get involved in SWA efforts is simply by talking to the workers.
“Ask how their day is going,” Martin said. “Strike up a conversation. Be friendly. Be Appreciative. Get to know the people who are making your food.”
If students wish to take a more active role in the SWA efforts, they can join the organization.
“Student-Worker Alliance has two different levels of involvement,” Martin said. The first is the planning and the organizing of plans of action regarding issues presented to the SWA. This level entails commitment to responsibilities.
The second level is attending the SWA weekly meetings. “You can come to meetings just to learn,” Martin said. “You can come to a rally.” The rallies organized by SWA are open to everyone to attend.
“I encourage everyone to get involved in some small way,” Martin said. “Everybody can participate.”
Martin also said that everyone should be an activist. Martin added that when she learned about the injustices workers go through, “it’s impossible to be chill with it.”
“Oppression has no place in any good society,” Martin said.
“You need to be an activist because your fellow humans are suffering, and if you’re not doing anything about that, why are you even here?”
Produced by Aya Elamroussi