On being an ally to the people who support our livelihoods at Wash. U.

Matthew Wallace | Contributing Writer

Let’s talk about that dirty word you don’t want to say in front of your parents and grandparents. It’s a word that sends a chill through the air in certain circles. It has a history with negative associations. I am, of course, talking about unions. Specifically, the Bon Appetit staff’s attempt to form a union at Washington University.

We all know a profession with a union. Teachers, electricians and truck drivers have all made efforts to unionize in America in the past century. Today, there are 14.6 million people in unions in the U.S. A union’s primary function is to advocate on behalf of its members, negotiating fair wages, safe work conditions and protecting against discrimination. Their work can have a large effect on the working landscape.

But I want to talk to you about a smaller group of people whose influence and presence has kept many Wash. U. students afloat. The food service workers here are a consistent positive presence in the Wash. U. community. For some students, a smile from a food service worker is one of few positive interactions they have in the daily grind that is high pressure higher education.

When I lived on the South 40, I would consistently get food at the grill. Like most freshmen, I was overstressed and felt isolated in the fast-moving life of a college student. There was a grill worker who would always remember my name and chat with me while I was waiting for my food. We shared laughs and we asked about each other’s day. The conversations were never more than five minutes, but their impact was nothing short of monumental. Having someone to talk to who didn’t care about my grades or wasn’t talking to me because it was their job made those brief interactions an escape from the pressure of school. Knowing someone cares enough to go out of their way to remember your name and to talk to you is something we as students take for granted.

This sort of interaction is not uncommon at Wash. U. Every food location at Wash. U. is staffed by people who take time out of their days to make ours a little brighter. But most of the time, we are too wrapped up in our own lives to remember that these employees are people too. These workers have their own stories filled with as much joy, pain and struggle as we see in our own lives. They work just as hard to advance their lives and simply want the chance to have a voice in their jobs.

As the Wash. U. food workers continue their efforts to unionize, we can help them by standing behind them as they have done for us day in and day out. By voicing our desire for the University to make a statement of support for the food service workers, we can make a real push towards their goal of creating a union. Calling and sending emails to the administration may move them to act on our behalf.

The tremendous opportunities presented by unions have allowed millions of families to achieve their version of the American dream. Handouts and free passes are not the goal of a union; it is the chance to have a deservedly better life.

Should we ignore the power and benefits afforded by unions, when the people it would help this time are so close to our own lives? Many people have long thought about going back in time and being a part of movements that change the world. We can be a part of one right here, right now. It may not make headlines nationwide and textbooks won’t mention it, but the people and families whose lives will be made better will never forget.