‘Fight for $15’ Movement for Campus Workers at UF

Disgruntled Aramark workers at the University of Florida are teaming up with the Alachua County Labor Coalition to gradually implement the nationwide “Fight For $15” campaign at UF. 

“One of the most important things that I’ve noticed that UF hasn’t addressed on campus is that a lot of the workers don’t make enough to make ends meet on time, or live paycheck to paycheck,” said Ashley Nguyen, a coordinator at the Alachua County Labor Coalition and a senior international studies and political science student at UF. 

Using her status as a student to act as a liaison between student workers and the ACLC, Nguyen is helping to pioneer the movement at UF, a movement that is growing across the country as unsatisfied workers urge their employers to raise the minimum wage to $15. 

“The ACLC advocates for a living wage and all workers being able to unionize without UF blocking these efforts,” said Nguyen. 

Every food service worker at UF, from Broward Dining to Starbucks, is an Aramark worker. There are over 1,000 Aramark workers at UF. 

“Aramark has an absolute monopoly over food at UF,” said Jeremiah Tattersall, field staff member at the North Central Florida Central Labor Council. “UF makes sure that no other food is sold - that’s why if you eat Krishna lunch, you are encouraged to simply give a donation.” 

Tattersall is also a primary proponent in the Fight for $15 campaign in Alachua County, working on behalf of the NCFCLC with individuals, both students and non-students, who feel unappreciated in their work lives.  

“This stuff is heavy,” he said. “The reason we [NCFCLC] started working on this is because Aramark workers started coming to our meetings, saying ‘Hey, this isn’t right’ and asked how they could bring the national movement to campus.” 

One local man is only now making $15 after being employed by Aramark for 22 years, he said. 

“The CEO [of Aramark] makes millions a year, food executives make a lot, and it is all done on the backs of workers – mostly workers of color and, disproportionately, women.” 

Still others have led efforts to unionize – to no avail. Aramark has made this nearly impossible, he said, taking action against individuals who attempt to speak out or organize and threatening their job security. 

Efforts to manage complaints received at the ACLC from local Aramark workers entered the university sphere when a meeting was held April 11 in Anderson Hall. Facilitated by the ACLC, the meeting aimed to gather student workers and initiate an open conversation about the work environments students face.

Over the summer, the combined efforts of the ACLC, NCFCLC and unhappy campus Aramark workers sparked the launch of the Fight for $15 campaign at the University of Florida. 

While still relatively young, the drive in Gainesville is gaining momentum as written and digital copies of petitions are being circulated and prepared for UF administration review. 

“Workers have asked specifically for student support; students are really important to this,” said Nguyen. “This is our university, and we should be able to decide how it’s run.” 

“All of the work we do is delegated out to supporters of the movement,” she said. “The ACLC has gotten complaints from student workers and workers in general involving issues with management and cutting back hours that these workers are dependent on.” 

Several organizations have penned letters to UF President Fuchs in support of this movement, including Graduate Assistants United and the National Women’s Liberation.  

“President Fuchs really needs to make an example,” Tattersall said. “It’s not like the university doesn’t have the money to pay workers more.”

The FCLC is in the process of meeting with students, faculty, and Aramark workers to lay out their campaign and to bring the petitions to Aramark and campus advisory committees, according to Tattersall.  

As meetings concerning the efforts progress, there will be more updates within the coming month, said Nguyen.

Issued in a statement on its website, Aramark writes: “Our people are important to us. They’re out there every day, creating unforgettable experiences and providing service to our customers, clients and communities across the globe. To show them how much we appreciate their efforts, we do everything we can to make sure our employees feel included, supported and encouraged no matter what position they’re in.”

The National Business Group on Health recognized Aramark for maintaining healthy work atmospheres among 63 employers, and by Ethisphere as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.