Fighting for Workers’ Rights One Protest at a Time

Emma-Claire Martin, a junior at American University and President of Student-Worker Alliance.

Emma-Claire Martin, a junior at American University and President of Student-Worker Alliance.

Aya Elamroussi

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Emma-Claire Martin has
been fighting the food service company Aramark since she was young. In the
seventh grade, Martin marched to a school board meeting at her Rutledge, Pennsylvania.
middle school with a power point presentation demanding healthier food from
Aramark, who catered their lunches.

 

“We need more salads,”
Martin said in her presentation. Her voice was ignored and Aramark changed
nothing at her school.

 

Leaving her hometown to
attend college did not allow her to escape the company.

 

“I come to college, and I
see American University has Aramark, and I am like, ‘ugh, these guys,’” Martin said.

 

“I found out not serving
healthy food wasn’t [Aramark’s] biggest injustice,” Martin said, referring to
the company’s mistreatment of its workers. “It actually ran deeper; it was much
more serious.”

 

Wanting to combat these
grievances, Martin joined the Student-Worker Alliance (SWA) in her first year
of college. Her friend Rachel brought her to one of the meetings the campus
organization held and Martin became hooked.

 

SWA is a social justice
organization that advocates for worker rights at AU.

Now a junior studying
film, religious studies and sexuality studies, Martin is the president of the
SWA.

 

“The mission of the
Student-Worker Alliance is to listen to the housing and dining workers on
campus, their grievances, their complaints, what they want to be better,”
Martin said. Martin added that SWA recognizes AU is the students’ home as well
as all the faculty, professors, staff and workers’.

 

“This campus needs to be a
safe and a welcoming space,” Martin said.

 



How SWA works

 



SWA meets with housing and
dining staff to discuss workers’ concerns and plans of action to improve their
working conditions. These actions include boycotts, petition signing or
protests. SWA makes sure not to speak for the workers.

 

“We work to make sure
their voice is heard,” Martin said.  “Our
role is to empower [the workers].”

 

SWA is particularly
important because student involvement allows workers to speak up about workplace
injustice. Martin says there’s fear that if workers speak up, they might get
fired or suffer other work place penalties.

 

“That has definitely
prevented a lot workers from speaking up,” Martin said. “The SWA exists so that
doesn’t happen. If workers speak out and get fired, SWA is determined to
protest and boycott, Martin said. “We want to be a safety net for [workers].”

 

Martin added that AU is
more inclined to listen to students’ voices more than the workers’.

 

“We’re the ones giving
[AU] money,” Martin added. “If the students are angry enough about an issue, it’s
more likely to see change than if it’s just the workers.”

 

Last year, according to
Martin, the SWA advocated for floor mats for Subway workers to stand on. They
were successful: SWA mobilized students to obtain mats that provided workers
with a more comfortable working environment.

 

Although workers can go to
their managers to voice their concerns, Martin said problems can slip through
the cracks in the hierarchy since there are no consequences for not giving
workers what they want.

 

“If you’re trying to make
money, if you’re just trying to run a university, and you’re not particularly
caring [about] the human rights issue,” Martin said, “there’s no real
consequence.”

 



Faith and activism

 



Martin said her social
justice activism is deeply rooted in her Christian faith.

 

Martin joined the United
Methodist Student Association her freshman year. During her time there, she
became interested in the association’s social justice initiatives and enjoyed
the political activism discussions.

 

“Jesus was a super activist,”
Martin said. “A lot of the Bible talks about standing up for the underdog and
being angry at injustice.”

 

She added that Jesus
preached against being greedy and in favor of giving time, energy and money to
people who need it.

 

“Because I am a Christian,
I feel I would be a hypocrite if I wasn’t every day looking to be an activist,
to be an organizer, to use my platform as someone who has privilege to help
however I can.”

 

 


‘Everybody can
participate’

 



Martin said that an easy
way for everyone to get involved in SWA efforts is to talk to workers.

 

Ask how their day is going,” Martin said. “Strike
up a conversation. Be friendly. Be appreciative. Get to know the people who are
making your food.”

 

If students wish to take a
more active role in the SWA efforts, they can join the organization.

 

“Student-Worker Alliance
has two different levels of involvement,” Martin said. The first is the
planning and the organizing of plans of action regarding issues presented to
the SWA. This level entails commitment to responsibilities.

 

The second level is
attending the SWA weekly meetings.

 

“You can come to meetings
just to learn,” Martin said. “You can come to a rally.”

 

The rallies organized by
SWA are open to everyone to attend.

 

“I encourage everyone to
get involved in some small way,” Martin said.

 

Martin
believes that everyone should be an activist, adding that when she learned
about the injustices workers go through, “it’s impossible to be chill with it.”

 

“Oppression
has no place in any good society,” Martin said.

 

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