Op-Eds Opinion

Letter to the Editor: Supporting the ARAMARK Workers

To the Springfield College Community:

During the Fall semester, Aramark workers at SC impressed us with their tenacious and inspirational union organizing drive. Ninety-eight faculty and over 300 students signed on to letters of support during the organizing drive. After a resounding victory they entered into negotiations with Aramark with the expectation of a fair and respectful process and hoped for a contract agreement by Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, as spring finally emerges, the negotiations have stalled and the workers once again need our support as they struggle with Aramark over health care benefits.  

A recent news story on Marketplace highlighted the way that large corporations such as Walmart use government benefit programs like SNAP (food stamps) to subsidize low wages paid to their employees:

[T]he state of Ohio…does keep a list of the top 50 companies with the most workers and their family members on food stamps. Ohio’s list includes lots of fast food chains, discount and big-box stores: McDonalds, Target, Kroger Supermarket, Dollar General. At the very top is Walmart…If you take into account the average size of a family on food stamps, as many as 7,000 individual Walmart employees were on food stamps last year – nearly 15 percent of the company’s work force across Ohio.

While families who use SNAP and other welfare benefits are often condemned for needing government assistance, the same criticism is rarely applied to corporations who effectively use the same programs to keep their employees’ wages low.

Unfortunately, companies like Walmart and Aramark are trying to use the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the same way. An emerging strategy is to eliminate health insurance to employees, thus forcing workers to find it through the federal health care exchanges. This seems to be the intent of the stonewalling on the part of Aramark’s negotiators here at SC. Already a majority of the workers at Springfield College ARAMARK qualify for and use MassHealth. By refusing to agree to year-round health insurance benefits for SC’s food service workers, Aramark is anticipating workers will continue on or be forced to apply for government-subsidized health insurance. This is important for at least two reasons. First, Aramark is asking taxpayers to help their bottom line since most Aramark workers at SC are like workers in Ohio – their wages are so low that they are eligible for welfare benefits such as SNAP, MassHealth and other forms of subsidized insurance.

Second, they are using our food service workers to draw a line in the sand to keep health insurance benefits out of labor contracts as a way to divorce health insurance from the historic employee benefit package. As a test case, we should all be concerned. Aramark workers at SC work hard and deserve a fair labor contract that includes traditional employee benefits such as health insurance. If Aramark is able to push its no health insurance position into the contract with workers at SC, it will set a precedent that could potentially harm all workers if other employers are motivated to emulate Aramark’s tactic. It will also increase the costs of the Affordable Care Act and potentially decrease its financial plausibility. It will affect all of us in our taxpaying pocketbooks.

SC’s Aramark workers need our support now more than ever.  We need to make it clear that access to year-round health care through employment is part of our country’s social contract.  We need to insist that Aramark step up and do what’s right for its employees and not expect the government to meet its responsibility to provide health insurance benefits to its workers.

Susan Joel, Social Sciences; Bob Accorsi, Sport Management & Recreation; Richard Andersen, School of Human Services; John Borland, Sport Management and Recreation; Julia Chevan, Physical Therapy; Laurel Davis-Delano, Social Sciences; Linda Davis-Delano, Education; Amedeo DeCara, Babson Library; Tom Digby, Humanities; Nina Dini, Math, Physics, Computer Science; Martin Dobrow, Humanities; Justine Dymond, Humanities; Eileen Cyr, Education; Dan Fraizer, Humanities; Christie George, Sport Management and Recreation; Fernando Gonzalez de Leon, Social Sciences; Bobbie Harro, School of Human Services; Chris Haynes, Visual & Performing Arts; LeThuy Hoang, Humanities; Mary Healey, Pre-Medical Scholars; Jasmin Hutchinson, Exercise Science & Sport Studies; Jennifer Johnston, Education; Jonathan Kahane, Psychology; Susan Keys, Biology; Becky Lartigue, Humanities; Margaret Lloyd, Humanities; Alexandra Ludwig, Visual & Performing Arts; Ron Maggio, Visual & Performing Arts; Eileen McGowan, Math, Physics, Computer Science; Missy-Marie Montgomery, Humanities; Elizabeth Morgan, Psychology; Rachael Naismith, Babson Library; Cynthia Nazzaro, Visual and Performing Arts; Kathy Post, Occupational Therapy; Missy Quinlan, Social Sciences; Dan Russell, Social Sciences; Jody Santos, Humanities; Kathryn Shea, Sport Management and Recreation; Mark Simeone, Physical Education; Kathleen Snyder, Education; Jennifer Stratton, Education; Frank Torre, Biology & Chemistry; Shannon Whalen, Health Education; Meeghan Ziolkowski, Humanities; Dan Zukergood, Education; Margie Phillips, Academic Resource Specialist; Kellee Grucci, Assitant Director of Academic Services.

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