In today’s globalized world, our social relations with other people are sometimes simple, sometimes hidden and complex, and sometimes, both at once. You relate simply and directly to the Chartwells food service workers when you buy a sandwich or a cup of coffee at many places on campus. You may see them on a regular basis, know their names, smile and chat with them.
These workers are paid, on average, $9.50 per hour. This is well below what Miami-Dade County determines is a ‘living wage.’ For a single adult, a living wage is considered to be $12.06 per hour. Since campus food service workers are furloughed when classes are not in session and have had their hours cut back in a move by Chartwells to squeeze the same work from them for less money, many of them make around $10,000 a year.
Your friendly food service workers on campus are paid poverty wages. To try and improve their pay and working conditions, a majority of these workers have officially signified their desire to join a union. Chartwells is refusing to respect this choice.
You may be asking yourselves what it has to do with UM, and hence with you. Is this not a matter between Chartwells and its employees alone? Well, imagine that your drain is blocked and you need a plumber. The various plumbers you consider employing all have their assistants. Suppose that some of those plumbers mistreat and underpay those assistants while others do not. Will you be indifferent to witnessing an abusive relationship as they work on your sink? Or will you make a mental note to find a different plumber next time?
As human beings, we have all sorts of views about the kind of world we wish to live in, all sorts of conceptions about moral responsibilities for fairness, justice and dignity. Why should any of these ideals disappear just because you are making an economic decision?
You are the University of Miami. And UM believes in fairness, justice and dignity for all. These values cannot be segregated and excluded by the university just because it does not employ those workers directly. The university can and should make known to Chartwells the value it places on allowing those who work here to pursue the legal means at their disposal to remedy, as quickly as possible, the poverty wages and other workplace problems they face.
Simon Evnine is an associate professor in the department of philosophy.