Last Friday’s show included audio from the Chartwells walk-out protest and Counterpoint’s Jordan Lewis, Mike Kanoff, and William Ng were able to witness. They heard the strikers grievances not just about their own jobs but the greater impact of UM in their community. Most notably, Miss Betty, a favorite at UM after Chartwells dismissed her over a simple misunderstanding was present as well as other community leaders. Miss Betty stressed how the Chartwells workers provide students with delicious meals but many employees cannot even feed their own families. This comment particularly struck me because I realize being able to attend a university is apart of the American dream but the reality is that many cannot afford this opportunity. Betty was grateful that one of her sons was able to attend UM but most people on minimum wage don’t have the means to do so. Our privilege at this university juxtaposed with the unfair wages that the worker whether from Chartwells or UNICO is a reflection of the deep income disparities our country.
So is this just a Chartwells problem or is it a UM problem? It’s both. We do business with Chartwells and expect them to have not just fair business practices but also fair treatment of their workers. UM should pressure Chartwells to do the right thing and increase wages, include healthcare, and cut long hours. Why? It is because UM has a reputation to uphold as well as a high price tag. That in turn, should buy students not just meals but provide decent wages for the workers.
Another one of commentators, Michael Fuentes, made the argument against increasing wages because minimum wage jobs are not meant to be permanent, and that people need to “move up the ladder” in terms of economic status. Some minimum wage workers might have that opportunity, while others do not have a choice. There is little room for economic mobility due to the deregulated financial markets that led up to the economic crisis in 2008. The debate should not be over minimum wages but rather over if a person s being paid fairly for the quality and quantity of work they’re doing. Betty urged UM students and faculty to speak out against the unfair treatment of Chartwells workers. We, the students, are the ones paying for this university, so let’s make a difference not just in UM but also in the community by supporting the Chartwells workers and their push to get a higher pay.