"Don’t Bite the Hands that Feed You': a student POV from the rally for union workers
“Unfortunately, Brandeis has failed to respect union workers on all fronts” said the Brandeis Lefitst Union on their promotion post for the “Rally to Defend Dining Workers.”
The “Rally to Defend Dining Workers” took place around the university’s campus and began in front of Usdan Student Center. Since I became a student at Brandeis in the fall of 2021, I’ve continuously heard upperclassmen and employees complain about the poor treatment of the dining workers. I along with many other students signed multiple petitions to ensure better pay and treatment of the workers. This rally was organized to secure better treatment for Brandeis University’s Union workers. Some of the demands include:
Demand #1- Making catering exclusive to union workers.
Demand #2- Upholding the union contracts.
Demand #3- Transparency with union workers.
Demand #4- Representation in decision-making processes.
During the rally, we walked from Usdan to the lower campus, past Sherman Function Hall, and ended at the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center. The march took place on the windy afternoon of Feb 18, starting at 2:30 p.m.. The organizers of the protest took the weather into consideration and provided hot chocolate for everyone there. I, along with other eager participants, appreciated the gesture.
It seemed that dining hall employees were the main highlight of the rally. Several of the hand-made signs were demands from dining hall employees. It was interesting to see how much support the union workers got at the rally. The graduate student employee union also made an appearance along with other union workers from around Waltham.
When we arrived at our final destination, outside the Berenstein-Marcus Administration Center, representatives from their unions began presenting their demands for Brandeis’ administration.
Dozens showed their support for Brandeis’ union workers. Students, other faculty, and outside supporters came to assist workers in securing their demands. It was really incredible to see how students, stood up to show solidarity for the union workers.
After the union workers presented their points, we then ventured into the Administration Center. One of the coordinating leaders of the rally directed protesters into the administrative building to speak to University President Ron Liebowitz.
The chants throughout the rally further amplified the workers’ demands. “Every minute, every hour: Build student worker power” and “Don’t bite the hands that feed you: Hey Ron, the workers don’t need you.” While talking to Cassandra Anderson, a student activist and member of the Brandeis Leftist Union, I learned that the chants were created by the students of the BLU in preparation for the rally.
There was a lot of comradery and energy among the participants of the rally. Even with the gloomy weather of the day, we were vibrant and impassioned as we chanted throughout the administrative building. Once we got to one of the innermost administrative offices, we continued to chant and demand to see President Liebowitz.
Onlookers were other staff members, who paused their work inside the office to observe the protest. The lack of concern from them, as dozens of students chanted loudly demanding support for the University’s union workers, was really off - putting. I’m not sure if the workers didn’t care about our rally, or if they were in the same position of mistreatment as workers and didn’t have the energy to care.
The leading person in the red shirt on the right, Josh Benson, told protesters that President Liebowitz was not in the building: “Ron isn’t here. Because Ron is scared of workers and us students uniting, to make a university that pays its workers well. That actually operates on systems of social justice.” They also added, “We at the Brandeis Leftist Union call for solidarity with labor, and joint student-worker control of the university.” This rally was completely needed as Brandeis continues to keep catering workers in the dark while changing the food service contractor. As someone that had been vaguely aware of the issues union workers have been having with Brandeis, this rally’s organizers did well informing all attendants of the protest.
The event opened my eyes to the depth of these issues going on around campus and helped me further empathize with the needs of our faculty. Cassandra Anderson, acted as one of the coordinators of this rally. Student support was incredibly important for this rally. “If Brandeis only saw the workers advocating for themselves, they would do nothing. Student involvement was critical,” she said.