Don't bite the hand that feeds you

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • October 12, 2017

At issue: Attitude towards Sodexo workers

Our take: Treat service workers with dignity

A new school year, a new dining hall—fine, Dining Center—petition. From mice to food quality, Emerson students have drafted countless Change.org petitions and napkin notes, detailing their myriad grievances with the school’s dining services. And yet, while complaints about Sodexo are no stranger to the administration, a petition that directly addresses the unjust treatment of the food company’s workers is.

Earlier this month, students briefly shifted their attention away from their stomachs to champion a more noble cause: the right of Dining Center employees to play music in the workplace. And although it didn’t completely resolve Emerson’s issues regarding its treatment of Sodexo workers, the “Keep the Music Behind the Counter” petition, signed by dozens of students over the course of several days, slightly improved working conditions for Dining Center employees nonetheless.

The petition might not seem like much, but at least it shows basic respect for Sodexo workers. Frankly, that’s not something that we see enough on campus. Emerson students might not go around asking for the manager, but we can still be complicit in treating service workers like garbage. How many times have you heard a peer sound off against a Max or Dining Center employee for being “rude” or “inattentive?” (Read: looking at their phone for 15 seconds before assembling your chicken patty sandwich.)

Expecting service workers to act like sunshiney smile-droids denies their humanity. No person can authentically maintain that demeanor for a full shift; to demand it is to demand gratuitous emotional labor.

In no way do we mean to discourage students from taking actions in the name of workers rights, no matter how small. But it important to acknowledge that a petition is very different from legal action, from supporting strikes and labor unions and fair wages. Let’s not forget three years ago, when Emerson P.R.I.D.E students and faculty actively supported the school’s Sodexo employees to unionize through petitions and rallies. Signing a sheet of paper is several steps removed from the individuals that we refer to in a mass as “workers.” The larger issue at stake is the respect of Sodexo workers, and all employees of Emerson, as real people whose lives have inherent value.

So let’s not just sit back and revel in a petition that accomplished a minimal goal—let’s keep the conversation going. Although it seems obvious, we must hold our peers accountable for inconsiderate actions and treat the people who serve us every day with basic dignity.

While it is tempting for some to breeze past these people in the frenzy of our lives, or to prioritize our time over that of others, we cannot behave with such unchecked privilege. It is a sentiment pounded into our heads since infancy, but it is one worth remembering: respect everyone. Period. To do otherwise is shameful.