Emory students arrested for protest of worker treatment. Students plan vigil tonight

I guess Emory changed its mind about allowing students to protest the treatment of sub-contract workers on the campus. (Read this blog from last week for background.)

Last night, Emory grad student Laura Emiko Soltis left me this voice message amid a lot of noise in the background: “Our peaceful tent city outside the Administration Building that has been up since Thursday has been ordered taken down. But there are no policies prohibiting Emory students from sleeping outside in tents.”

Soltis is one of the students protesting the treatment of cafeteria workers by the management company Sodexo.

In the blog last week, Soltis explained why she and other students believe Emory should take a stand on even how contract employees are treated: “These workers are not protected by the code of conduct of Emory…by an ethically engaged university.  They have no avenue of redress. Emory is one of the largest employers in Atlanta and this is something that Emory needs to take seriously.”

Soltis was arrested Monday for her refusal to vacate the tent encampment. Three other Emory students, two Georgia State students and a Georgia Tech student were also arrested, says Emory student and group spokesman Alex Zavell. (Zavell co-wrote a piece for the Emory Wheel explaining his stand.)

I reached an exhausted Zavell at noon today after he spent the night rounding up bail money to spring his colleagues. He and the freed students had just met at a donut shop down the block from DeKalb County jail to regroup. At 6:30 today, they plan a press conference and vigil on the Emory campus, said Zavell.

As promised, Emory President Jim Wagner met with the student protesters last week, but Zavell said the university is maintaining its position that no action is warranted.

(Emory has characterized the strife as an eruption of tensions between Sodexo and a union organizing effort. And in a statement to the Emory Wheel, Sodexo Resident District Manager Joe Mitchell said, “Regardless of what [Students and Workers in Solidarity] wishes to state in their pamphlets, employees are not mistreated.”)

After the meeting with Wagner, Zavell says the students resumed their protest without incident until Monday night. An Emory administrator showed up and told them that the quad tents had to come down, and an Emory grounds crew began to forcibly do so, he says.

“Everything had been very respectful and there was no complaints. We kept the quad clean,” said Zavell. “But we were presented with a letter that we needed to reserve the quad. But we had been there for five days and this was the first time anyone had mentioned that we have to reserve the quad.”

The students retreated to one last standing tent, but were warned that they were trespassing. Being Emory students, they asked what seems a logical series of questions. Were they trespassing if they were outside the tent? Or next to the tent?

When told that they would not be considered trespassers outside or near the tent, they asked why they were trespassers inside the tent. That logic and their refusal to leave apparently didn’t sit well with Emory officials, who then brought in police to arrest them.

I admire the students for taking up a cause other than themselves. I know many of you will respond with cracks that these kids don’t know what real life is, but getting arrested for what you believe seems real enough to me.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

111 comments Add your comment

Victoria Schwartz

April 26th, 2011
1:25 pm

I was on campus last evening, and there was a protester with a bullhorn that could be heard from a block or two away. It may have been a peaceful protest, but it was not a quiet one.

Henry Halloran

April 26th, 2011
1:36 pm

The joys of youth! I’m sure these students wouldn’t balk at having their tuitions raised due to the higher costs associated with providing these employees with better benefits since Mom and Dad pay the tuition anyways. Maybe instead of debating what does and does not constitute trespassing they should focus on opportunity costs and realize that these employees that they are protesting on their behalf have the opportunity to seek out and gain employment at other firms with better benefits should they choose. Carry on young ones!

Pluto

April 26th, 2011
1:38 pm

I think this cat has been skinned already.

Kevin O

April 26th, 2011
1:56 pm

The joys of youth! I’m sure these students wouldn’t balk at having their tuitions raised due to the higher costs associated with providing these employees with better benefits since Mom and Dad pay the tuition anyways. Maybe instead of debating what does and does not constitute trespassing they should focus on opportunity costs and realize that these employees that they are protesting on their behalf have the opportunity to seek out and gain employment at other firms with better benefits should they choose. Carry on young ones!

AMEN!

At a time when pension programs have brought down many companies like Delta and General Motors as well as threaten both federal and state governments solvency. What is it about fiscal responsibility don’t people young and old understand? We’ve got to right this ship across the board. The days of receiving 90% of your last three years salary and benefits is LOOOOONNNGGG gone, people!

All the financial modeling which created such nonsense has blown-up!

Advocate

April 26th, 2011
1:58 pm

Sodexho needs to go from Emory, Morehouse and the Atlanta Public Schools period!!!! It is truly about the money and that is all!!! I wonder what educated criminal thugs at these institutions are getting paid under the table to facilitate these contracts cause the workers aren’t treated well and they definitely have displaced employees everywhere they show up at a supposedly cheaper cost.

However, someone is paying the ultimate price somewhere be it the children that are served the horrible meals in the schools on the south end of the city and or all of the nutrition department employees that were outsourced when Sodexho showed up at the Atlanta Public Schools under the leadership of Beverly Hall. The students are on to something about this company and this isn’t the first time this mode of operation has been protested against in reference to this company. Remember the documentary ” Supersize Me”. I hope the students prevail in their battle against this gangsta company. It is just sad what is happening in the US workplace in 2011 and no one seems to care about employees or customers.

Laura

April 26th, 2011
2:04 pm

@Henry – Sodexo runs the food service at (at least) Emory, Georgia Tech, Morehouse and Georgia State. This leaves few other options, especially in this economy, for people trained in food service.

And you may be interested to know that the students concerned are also actively involved in the fight to ensure access to affordable public higher education. The just treatment of people and respect for their human rights is not in conflict with providing a quality education.

If you are interested, check http://tinyurl.com/3dlzbx8 for some interviews with Sodexo workers, describing their complaints.

Laura

April 26th, 2011
2:07 pm

kimmer

April 26th, 2011
2:10 pm

The innocence of youth indeed! Would they be happier if the Sodexo workers were out of a job? It seems to me that these students should have better things to do than to concern themselves to the point of arrest over people who are gainfully employed in a city with 9% unemployment.

About 10 years from now if some of these students are in the real world managing people and a budget there are going to be some ‘how could I have been so dumb’ moments for sure.

Footage of lead up to and arrests

April 26th, 2011
2:16 pm

Watch the video footage coverage. it is an amazing portrayal of teh events

http://atlanta.indymedia.org/local/seven-emory-students-arrested-sodexo-demonstration

bob leblah

April 26th, 2011
2:19 pm

Unbelievable that this newspaper has produced articles and blogs on this and I still don’t know what they’re protesting. How are these workers being mistreated? Maureen don’t you think it would be wise to write or ask the students what specifically they’re protesting? Or actually contact a worker?? No, that’d involve actual reporting.

Kiki

April 26th, 2011
2:19 pm

In a time when workers’ rights are under serious attack across the country, I admire the Emory students for standing with the workers, rather than continue their comfortable student lives ignoring the people working hard for little money, who make their school stay possible.

Jessica

April 26th, 2011
2:22 pm

“The joys of youth! I’m sure these students wouldn’t balk at having their tuitions raised due to the higher costs associated with providing these employees with better benefits since Mom and Dad pay the tuition anyways. Maybe instead of debating what does and does not constitute trespassing they should focus on opportunity costs and realize that these employees that they are protesting on their behalf have the opportunity to seek out and gain employment at other firms with better benefits should they choose. Carry on young ones!”

This is a disgusting comment. As a junior at Emory, I am attending on 100% financial aid, made up almost entirely of student loans. It’s insulting to suggest that all Emory students are trust fund babies with nothing better to do than “protest for people who have opportunities to seek out other employment.” If you have any decent education, you’d realize that many of these employees don’t have the opportunity to gain employment at these other places, whether it be because of education level, work experience, financial dependence on the abusive corporation they currently work for, or what have you. As someone not involved with these protests, I would be willing to undergo a tuition hike if it meant that the Sudexo employees that I’ve become so close to over my years at Emory were guaranteed fairer working conditions.

DW

April 26th, 2011
2:22 pm

One of the demands I saw was for the worker’s to get free parking. If the rest of the staff at Emory has to pay for parking then so should they. We don’t get free parking.

Maureen Downey

April 26th, 2011
2:23 pm

Bob, Among the things that the students listed as their concerns and their reason for taking up for the workers on their campus:
No breaks
Less benefits than Emory’s own workers, who get mass transit reinbursement
Intimidation for union
Closed meetings of management and workers where even Emory management cannot attend — students allege that this is where intimidation occurs.
I have included the links to the student’s own position paper.

Dr NO

April 26th, 2011
2:24 pm

Im glad these punks were arrested and they should be prohibited from entering the campus grounds. This non-issue is between the school and the subcontractors.

Dr NO

April 26th, 2011
2:25 pm

Jessica

April 26th, 2011
2:22 pm

Seems ignorance and stupidity run rampant at Emory. Get a job kiddo.

Dr NO

April 26th, 2011
2:26 pm

“What the students told me” This is all heresay and flatulence.

Dr NO

April 26th, 2011
2:27 pm

A Vigil…How stupid…LMAO!!!

“Kum bai ya mohammed
Kum bai ya…”

Fred

April 26th, 2011
2:28 pm

@Laura, Perhaps you would do well to open your eyes and look beyond these 4 schools before you say there are few other options for people trained in food service. If you are referring to the very small sample of colleges and universities in the city of Atlanta that outsource the non-core function of food services, then perhaps there are only a few options but with over 5 million people in the metro area, I am pretty sure there are other food service opportunities out there.

It is also slightly disingenuous to speak of affordable public higher education in a story relating to Emory. As a private school, Emory’s tuition is pretty high but over 70% of the Emory students receive financial aid with most of that coming from Emory. Further, Emory instituted a plan a couple of years ago (I do not remember the program name, sorry) to target those families with incomes of less than $100K for additional assistance as they make to much to get most forms of assistance but not enough to be able to afford Emory’s costs.

I haven’t yet had a chance to look at your links but I will. I think the fight, if there is one, is with Sodexo and not Emory.

bob leblah

April 26th, 2011
2:30 pm

This is one of the dumbest protests of all time.
- “Less benefits than Emory’s own workers” If working for Emory is better apply to work there.
- “Intimidation for Union” How? Anyone one can say that. Every business in every industry practically fights the start of a union.
- “Closed Meetings” So subcontractors are not allowed to speak directly to their employees, without their client present?

This sounds like college student logic.

Pluto

April 26th, 2011
2:31 pm

Do the “students” think that the “workers” will validate them or vice versa? What are the specific grievances that are being contested? I guess everyone is entitled to their five minutes of fame.

Dr NO

April 26th, 2011
2:33 pm

Perhaps these downtrodden unfortunate students should take up weekly collection and support these workers. I mean if they TRUELY care then that would seem the proper course.

bob leblah

April 26th, 2011
2:34 pm

@Jessica – You just described the problem here “whether it be because of education level, work experience, financial dependence” Fix this problem.

td

April 26th, 2011
2:35 pm

These kids are suppose to be our future leaders and they have no real concept about basic economics. This whole story is just more proof that our whole education system from pre-k though PhD needs major reform.

Fred

April 26th, 2011
2:36 pm

Maureen said “I guess Emory changed its mind about allowing students to protest the treatment of sub-contract workers on the campus.” Timing and location are everything. The location where the students were set up is the area where the main graduation ceremony takes place. Graduation is Monday, May 9th. It takes 10 days or so to prep the area for the 20K+ people expected. It sounds to me that basically time ran out for this location.

CJ

April 26th, 2011
2:36 pm

Props to everyone at Emory and other schools (& people supporting the student activists in these comments) who actually have a heart for fellow humans who are being abused by a corporation.

As for the heartless freaks trying to speak out against what these students are doing… either join us, or piss off and get out of our way. Because by your own logic, our fight isn’t any of your business anyway!

bob leblah

April 26th, 2011
2:37 pm

College students always take on the anti-establishment mindset and have their noses pressed up against a tree instead of seeing the whole forest.

joe

April 26th, 2011
2:38 pm

@ jessica…Georgia is a right to work state and these apparently are contract employees who chose to work there. Nobody put a gun to their head and made them show up for work. If they don’t like the job or wages paid, they are free to look for another job. The protesters are just another in a long line of looney leftist elitists who would rather see unions ruining another industry and government running our country, via out of control spending, into the ground than actually doing something to fix our problems.

Dr NO

April 26th, 2011
2:38 pm

“Our fight.” Then if thats true these worker bees must be taken care of in the interim. All you Emory eggheads and bleeding hearts/communists need to dig deep in those pockets and support these poor souls. You have made it your MORAL OBLIGATION!

bob leblah

April 26th, 2011
2:39 pm

CJ if you haven’t noticed, this is a blog. Both sides are presented and argued. Sorry we’re not in your liberal circle of friends who sit around and agree with you all day. I know that feels comfortable for you. btw ‘Abuse’ keeps getting thrown around, I still haven’t heard any concrete evidence (you know numbers/statistics) to back this up. If we’re heartless I guess that makes you brainless.

Jonathan

April 26th, 2011
2:41 pm

Watch the first video on this link:

http://atlanta.indymedia.org/local/seven-emory-students-arrested-sodexo-demonstration

For FULL video footage of the ENTIRE confrontation between the administration and students peacefully protesting for better treatment of contracted workers and asking for Sodexo’s removal from the Emory campus, which eventually led to the ARREST OF 7 STUDENTS.

td

April 26th, 2011
2:47 pm

CJ

April 26th, 2011
2:36 pm

It is your liberal, nanny state philosophy is the reason my grandchildren are going to paying off the bills that my grandparents generation has obligated our country. You really need of dose of reality and wake up. The silent majority of this country is just about sick and tired of your philosophy and will be sending you a loud and clear message very soon. So pull up those boot straps and get out there and get to work.

Laura

April 26th, 2011
2:47 pm

@Fred I appreciate your thoughtful comments on a forum that usually just spawns horrid attacks.

Regardless of the high unemployment rate, there are some other food service opportunities in the Metro Atlanta area. But does this negate the fact that our largest universities outsource their food service to a company that does not provide a living wage, accessible health benefits, few raises and intimidation when the workers try to organize for better conditions? Do we really think it is OK for these conditions to exist at some of the largest food service employers in our city?

You are right, the fight is with Sodexo and it is a global fight. Check-out http://cleanupsodexo.org/

The fight has been going for some time now and Sodexo simply denies they have anything that needs improving. Thus, while some people are working to improve this French company that takes profits from our universities, puts nothing back in the community and takes our profits back to France, others need to do what they can to ensure we are not complicit in these violations.

I think my second link did not work before. Here is the video: http://www.youtube.com/ushrn#p/c/201F77F4068FE23C/21/ubZ1uoj1-xw

Dr NO

April 26th, 2011
2:51 pm

“which eventually led to the ARREST OF 7 STUDENTS.”

Im all for it. College campus is for studying and not silly social experiments. Hopefully there will be more arrests in the days that follow.

PS…Save up these nickels for bail money.

joseph john

April 26th, 2011
2:57 pm

I think any disruption to the Emory community should be banned. I work on the emory campus and dont want to see these people making fools of themselves. I run a clinic in Building A. How do you think this behavior looks to our patients? Don’t be stupid. I have requested emory police before and will do it again.

bob leblah

April 26th, 2011
2:57 pm

Laura, what are they making currently? What do you and the students define as a livable wage? You’d fit well in Europe. btw, that mindset has worked really well for them.

[...] Update 4/25 2:38 PM: 7 students were arrested last night by Emory police. There is great video of the arrests here, here, and here. Atlanta biggest newspaper covers the arrest of the Emory 7 here and posted a very supportive blog here. [...]

Danielle

April 26th, 2011
2:59 pm

http://atlanta.indymedia.org/local/seven-emory-students-arrested-sodexo-demonstration

Watch the first video on this link for FULL video footage of the ENTIRE confrontation between the administration and students peacefully protesting for better treatment of contracted workers and asking for Sodexo’s removal from the Emory campus, which eventually led to the ARREST OF 7 STUDENTS.

Henry Halloran

April 26th, 2011
3:07 pm

Thank you for posting the video of the arrests last night. I cant tell you how much unintentional comedy was included in that piece. From the student holding the “Free Marta Passes for all Emory Employees”, the drum circles and the chants of “OUR PROPERTY” when it is clearly private property was comedic gold. Please keep posting. Hopefully there will be more to come!

Dr NO

April 26th, 2011
3:09 pm

Agreed HH…if these silly videos werent so sad and embarrassing they would be even more hilarious than they are. What a group of mental midgets…Geeesh.

bob leblah

April 26th, 2011
3:13 pm

Like I said before, this is one of the dumbest protests of all time. If I were these students’ professors I’d give them zeros for everything missed.

I just hope they find time to protest some of the real issues we have like: “Students for the rights of welcome mats” or “Emory provided seatbelts for all 10 speed bicycles”

grumpy curmudgeon

April 26th, 2011
3:32 pm

I used to be idealistic like these kids when I had no responsibility and looked to my parents to pay my way to college. Then I graduated, got a job and reality kicked in.

These kids are neophytes who want to be like the pro union protesters in WI. One day they too will look back at how foolish they are acting.

Jeff

April 26th, 2011
4:16 pm

And people call the Tea Party protesters crazy. The Tea Party is mild compared to these wanna be hippies.

emory student

April 26th, 2011
4:18 pm

While I support the SWS’s right to voice their opinions, the fact of the matter is that Emory’s commencement is in 2 weeks on the quadrangle, where the tent city was set up. It takes a long time to set up the quad (mow the lawn, set up the stage, install thousands of seats – 4,000 people graduating, at least 7,000 guests). I’ll be graduating this year and I’ve seen how long it takes to set up during my previous 3 years.

I’m sure if SWS had set up somewhere else on campus (say, Asbury Circle), there wouldn’t have been much of an issue as to their tent city.

Sara Tate

April 26th, 2011
4:45 pm

“I know many of you will respond with cracks that these kids don’t know what real life is, but getting arrested for what you believe seems real enough to me.” –They did.

Rock on Emory undergrads!! (from your friendly former MDIV student)

Sara Tate

April 26th, 2011
4:49 pm

And wasn’t the world built on idealists? Hopefuls? Ambitions? I admire the hell out of this. Whether or not they make the world better is slightly irrelevant. I’m proud that they care (in a world where it’s every ‘man’ for themselves these days). They’re living out their rights. They’re living out Gospel decrees. They’re not sitting back watching injustice happen and (loud or not) aren’t keeping their mouths closed.

Honestly

April 26th, 2011
4:56 pm

@CJ, Laura and Jessica, and anyone else positive: I agree with you! and fully support your comments!

@DW: compared to the salary that these workers are getting paid, you can afford to pay for parking. These workers have to raise entire families off of a mediocre salary.

@Dr. NO: your comments just make me sick.

As a student of the University I have had several conversations with the workers in regards to their wages, the amount of sick days they have, etc. It is is truly sickening. There should be no reason as to why students who are working on work study should get paid more than these workers.

Furthermore, Emory’s endowment is large enough to cover raising the salary salary of these workers; instead of Emory wasting money on changing the decor weekly or just nestling on the rest of the money. Also, the financial assistance that Emory gives to us, has steadily decreased over the years, and as a result more and more students are having to take out more loans. So if Emory’s money is not going to the students, where else is it going?

I feel like if any of you all (the people with all the negative comments) were in the same shoes as these workers, you would fully be supporting these students efforts. Instead of criticizing them and calling them “communist”.

Sara Tate

April 26th, 2011
5:07 pm

@Honestly I worked in Pitts (works study) with grad-level wages for 3 years. We got paid MORE? That it TRULY ATROCIOUS!

LTB

April 26th, 2011
5:17 pm

Spoiled brats need to go get jobs.

grumpy curmudgeon

April 26th, 2011
5:22 pm

So these kids think that the food workers should be granted full Emory benefits thus increasing the tuition for an already over rated expensive private university and driving themselves or their parents deeper into debt. Yea, makes alot sense!

This is over sub contracting. Everybody sub contracts to reduce costs in the private and public sector.

These kids are lucky they have not been expelled yet since they have been warned several times. When these kids graduate are they going to protest and have a sit in in their bosses office because the company that pays them a salary with benefits sub contracts. Hmmm I wonder what their bosses reaction would be? In my opinion they should be expelled or if they truly believe in their cause leave Emory and enroll in another college that does not sub contract.