By Shruthi Reddy
student, YDSA GNV member
On February 21, the Young Democratic Socialists in Gainesville led a rally and demonstration to advocate for the payment of a living wage for all workers and contracted employees at the University of Florida.
The university has chosen to not pay its workers decent wages, endangering these workers’ financial security. The worker groups receiving low wages include Other Personnel Services (OPS) workers and contracted employees such as Aramark food service workers.
UF contracts many of these employees temporarily with no guarantee of an employment renewal, making their economic situation even more vulnerable. Over hundreds of workers are fired during the summer by Aramark.
In conversations with labor organizers from the Alachua County Labor Coalition and YDSA GNV, workers have often talked about being victims of wage theft, time-sheet manipulation, and inflexible managers. Most often, these workers rely on Aramark full time for their livelihoods but do not receive the $15/hr necessary to be able to break out of lower-income brackets. Though they work 30-40 hours per week, these workers do not receive benefits such as health insurance or pension pay.
The demonstration came after the Gainesville chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America contacted President Fuchs to arrange a meeting to discuss these issues, and were denied. Fuchs stated that it was “inappropriate” with him to meet with the group to talk about the Fight for $15 and a union campaign.
This rally was an opportunity for President Fuchs to come and address the UF community directly, but he failed to show his support.
The rally started at noon in the Plaza of the Americas. Attendees then marched to Tigert Hall, where community members and campus leaders spoke. Speakers at the rally included UFF-UF union member Paul Ortiz and Lucas Mello who spoke about the absolute necessity of a living wage and explained how the university has been taking advantage of not only its direct workers, but the community as a whole.
The speakers also brought to light that some workers, particularly Aramark employees, have been discouraged from or directly prevented from unionizing, with some reportedly having their employment terminated due to attempting to unionize.
This is illegal, showing the weight of these accusations against the university for what it has allowed.
Around 45 students attended the rally along with the Alachua County Labor Coalition.
President Fuchs was invited to speak on the behalf of the university but failed to show.
UF administration and the Board of Trustees now must face the consequences of failing to support their community.