University at Albany students staged a May Day rally Wednesday to protest several issues, including the installation of Sodexho as the campuswide food service provider.
Student-activists representing the "Students Revolutionary Coalition" claim they are defending both workers’ rights and the rights of fellow students to diversity and dignity on the UAlbany campus - they gathered outside the campus center, roughly 75 in number, explaining that many SUNY students come from working class backgrounds and empathize with food service workers who toil at low-wage jobs with few opportunities for upward mobility.
Cathy Rojas is the founder of Students Revolutionary Coalition. She says students are dissatisfied with the working conditions present on the UAlbany campus, especially the recent contracting with Sodexho: she pointed out that the company was banished from the campus in the early 2000s for bad labor practices and poor food quality.
Steve Pearse was not available for comment. 471 employees of Chartwells Dining Services are in a “temporary job limbo” until Chartwells’ contract expires June 30th. Pearse told WAMC last week that no massive layoffs are expected in the transition to Sodexho.
Thirteen years ago, Sodexho left UAlbany following a student protest against the company’s refusal to recognize the dining hall workers’ union and questions about food quality from the administration.
Dan Kelly is a shop steward with the Civil Service Employees Association - he describes himself as a "state employee and union activist" - one appreciative of the students’ interest in and concern for campus workers. Sophomore Joseph DeWeese says student-activists are also calling on SUNY to end to tuition hikes and budget cuts. In the spirit of solidarity with workers of the world on May Day, bands of students went on the march, broadcasting word of their demands to other areas of the uptown campus.
UAlbany spokesperson Karl Luntta said University President Robert Jones did meet with a group of students and expressed his interest in engaging in continued dialog. Luntta added "freedom of expression is the foundation of any institution dedicated to inquiry and debate."
Cathy Rojas added that the May Day action was also about the college adding more black and Latino faculty and staff members. She emphasized that each demand seeks to connect the identity of working class students as working people and build solidarity among the whole campus community.
The Students Revolutionary Coalition is a coalition of students of color and allies committed to social change through cultural empowerment on campus and in the community at large.
Students Revolutionary Coalition
List of Demands
1. DEMAND A FAIR TRADE UNIVERSITY & A UNIVERSITY FREE FROM FOOD MONOPOLY!
“When you choose to purchase Fair Trade products, you are endorsing an economic system that provides opportunities for producers to lift themselves out of poverty. Fair Trade provides assurances to consumers that producers are paid fair prices for their products and labor. It gives them more direct market access which removes many of the “middle-men” who traditionally have absorbed the majority of the profits. In addition, Fair Trade provides a set of requirements that assure consumers that strict standards have been met to protect the environment, build economic sustainability, empower women, and allow opportunities for education, poverty alleviation, and health care.” (Source: http://fairtradetownsusa.org/why/\) University Auxiliary Services runs as a food monopoly in our university which does not allow small businesses or farm to table organizations to provide healthy, local, and diverse food options on campus.
2. DEMAND AN END OF UALBANY SUPPORT OF SODEXO!
The University Auxiliary Services (UAS) recently decided to contract out to Sodexo for the campus dining services. What this means is our university is now partners with a corporation that was forced to divest from the private prison corporation CCA, but still has many food service contracts with prisons. Sodexo also has contracts with the US Marine Corps in war & conflict zones, namely Afghanistan and Iraq, with US military contracts totaling over a billion dollars per year. They are currently involved in a class action lawsuit for racial discrimination right here in NYS for not allowing black men in their employ to advance on the job, which has 2600 plaintiffs.
3. DEMAND THE UNIVERSITY SEVER ITS TIES TO KILLER COKE!
Coca Cola has a monopoly on the vending and beverage contracts at UAlbany, but their corporation is implicated in murders of unionists in Colombia where much of their production takes place. The rules for determining whether a corporation has human rights abuses doesn't extend overseas, so the university doesn't take it into account when they evaluate them. They are currently involved in a class action lawsuit for racial discrimination right here in NYS for not allowing black men in their employ to advance on the job. The Student Association Senate passed a resolution last semester recommending UA terminate the contract with Killer Coke, but there has been no effort on behalf of UAS to change the contract. We are demanding that contract be severed on the grounds that it violates the university's promise not to support companies with labor abuses.
4. DEMAND MORE FACULTY DIVERSITY!
Even though 6.3% of the students who receive PhDs are Black, only 4.1% of the faculty are Black. For Latinos, there are 5.9% of Latino students who receive PhDs to a corresponding 3.3% of Latino faculty on SUNY campuses. That doesn't even begin to touch how deeply problematic it is that so few Black and Latino students receive or even seek to receive PhDs in SUNY. We demand more faculty diversity on our campus and campuses across the state. Black and Latino people need to be empowered in the classroom to set an example for institutions everywhere, and for Students of Color who enter our campus to be able to imagine themselves in positions of power in our classrooms. (http://www.nylarnet.org/ed_Unfinished%20Business.pdf)
5. DEMAND A MORE DIVERSE CURRICULUM!
Last year, the University at Albany changed their General Education requirements based on pressure from SUNY Central to streamline their degree programs. Streamlining turned out to be code for whitewashing the curriculum, removing the US Diversity and Pluralism, Regions Beyond Europe and Global and Cross Cultural Studies and replacing them with broad US History and Challenges for the 21st Century which makes it possible to receive a degree from UAlbany without any understanding of racism, sexism and classism or encountering any perspectives outside the dominant Western perspective which deprives Students of Color from access to histories and perspectives that empower them, especially those Students of Color who study fields outside the Humanities.
6. DEMAND HIGHER PAY FOR GRADUATE & TEACHING ASSISTANTS AND ADJUNCTS!
Graduate and Teaching Assistants at UAlbany are the lowest paid, on average, of GA & TAs in the SUNY system. The living wage for Albany County is, at minimum, $19,766. Not a single graduate or teaching assistant at our university is paid a living wage. Our university should be setting an example and paying their employees enough to live on instead of cutting corners and causing graduate students to take on more debt because they can't live on their pay. Adjuncts make an average of $2800 per course taught on our campus. They deserve to be paid a living wage and receive the support they need to teach well without having to scrape by. Part-time employees do the majority of teaching on our campus, it's time to fairly compensate everyone who makes education work at this university.
7. DEMAND AN END TO EXCESSIVE POLICING OF STUDENTS!
Students are heavily policed, both on and off campus. As equal members of the community on campus and at large, we have a right to freedom from the use of excessive force and our university should work hard to support all students, but especially Students of Color who are disproportionately affected by the system of Mass Incarceration at work in our society which has more Black and Brown people in prison today than were slaves during the Atlantic Slave trade.
8. DEMAND AN END TO UNIVERSITY SPONSORSHIP OF THE NEW JIM CROW!
The university should find alternatives to dealing with conduct violations. The university should not even consider it an option to flush students through the school to prison pipeline. The university uses the same racist practices used by the criminal injustice system in determining punishment for students. 1 in 3 Black men have criminal records in comparison to 1 in 27 white men; this is largely due to racist policing practices that cause black men to be 23 times more likely to be stopped by police than white men. Consequently it is more likely for a black student to have a record than a white student; the University uses a student’s prior background as a factor when determining punishment. Therefore Black students are more likely to receive harsher punishments and to be flushed through the school to prison pipeline than their white counterparts. Unless the university restructures the way in which they choose punishment for students, and stop relying on the same tactics used in the criminal injustice system, the university will continue to play into the New Jim Crow.
9. DEMAND AN END TO TUITION HIKES AND BUDGET CUTS!
New York State implemented five years of tuition increases for 5 years beginning in Fall 2011 which mean $300 more tuition per year for NYS residents or about 30% increase in 5 years. For out of state and international students, the increase is 10% per year, compounding each year. The school recruits in a predatory manner to collect more revenue from international and out-of-state students for the purpose of increasing tuition revenue. In the wake of budget cuts, SUNY chose to tax students instead of demanding the state adequately tax the rich to pay for public services.
10. DEMAND THE IMPLEMENTATION OF GENDER NEUTRAL BATHROOMS FOR UALBANY FACULTY & STAFF
Gender neutral bathrooms ensure that workers from the LGBTQ community feel safe and welcome on our campus.
11. A CAMPUS HOLIDAY FOR MAY DAY EACH YEAR
Many students are workers and the campus is full of hard-working employees who deserve a day to be in solidarity with workers around the world. Many other countries respect May Day as a worker's holiday.