Charlottesville, VA– In 2014, the University of Virginia (U.Va.), in Charlottesville, renegotiated and renewed its contract with food, facility, and uniform service provider, Aramark. The new contract, which extends until 2034, allows Aramark to maintain its monopolist hold on the university’s food services. Aramark not only provides food and labor for university dining halls, but they additionally refurbish those dining halls as negotiated and provided the university with 70 million dollars to be placed in its escrow and is accessible over the 20 year contract. While these contracts are kept purposefully obfuscated, certain facts are clear.
Aramark currently contracts with over 400 universities nationwide and over 500 prisons, many of which are private, for-profit prisons. In both of these situations, Aramark operates by utilizing exploitative and potentially dangerous labor conditions. While the University of Virginia boasts a minimum wage pay rate of $11.76 per hour, in university dining halls where contracted Aramark labor is used, the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 is actually the maximum an employee will be paid. The cost of living in the city of Charlottesville is almost 10% higher than the national average, and the minimum wage, even the four dollar increase that non-contracted employees earn, is not enough to support a comfortable life. Further, while Virginia is an anti-union state, not all states that Aramark operates in are. However, Aramark is an anti-union company, and have been alleged to engage in efforts to dissuade employees from corroborating. While U.Va. could compel Aramark to pay its employees contracted to the university more, via their mutually agreed upon contract, they do not. Or, if they do, it is unknown to us, as the details of these contracts are not public record.
Further, incoming first-year students at the University are forced to purchase an Aramark dining plan. While I’m sure many students find this useful, some find this constrictive policy to be morally reprehensible. A representative from a vegan group at U.Va., the Animal Justice Advocates, had this to say, “When I contacted dining staff to opt out of this contract because I was morally against supporting this company and financing violence against animals, I was told I could only opt out if I had an allergy, not because I was vegan or didn’t want to support Aramark.” Other students have found it necessary to compromise their morals and move away from veganism in order to eat at the dining halls, due to their lack of options. With students being forced to pay sums in the thousands, this amounts to nothing short of a extortive racket.
In prisons, the company’s track record is worse. Private prisons profit off of the disproportionate incarceration of people of color and minority citizens and utilize these citizens for legal slave labor via prison labor systems. In profiting off of this system, and even utilizing prison labor, Aramark is profiting directly from white supremacist institutions. Secondly, Aramark has had numerous claims raised against them about the safety of prisoners when working with Aramark staff, including allegations of sexual assault, which the company waived away as something that happens “regardless of how food service is operated,” serving actual garbage to prisoners, among others. These practices are wholly unacceptable and are reflective of Aramark’s core values – that profit will always take priority over morality.
The University of Virginia states that students will neither lie, cheat, or steal, and that students will live honorably. I feel that students of this university cannot live honorably while supporting an institution such as Aramark, that cheats its employees from a living wage and profits from the disenfranchisement of people of color so directly. Current president, Jim Ryan, has stated that he wants to work harder on the task of affording a living wage to all U.Va. employees, but it is unclear if contracted labor falls under that category for Mr. Ryan. I call on Jim Ryan and the Board of Visitors to immediately review and dissolve the current contract with Aramark in order for the University to divest from an institution profiting from white supremacy and exploitative labor. It’s not like U.Va. has a history of white supremacy or exploitative labor, so divesting from a company that does shouldn’t prove impossible for them.
Aramark could not be reached for comment.
By: Jackson Gibbs
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