Workers, students, faculty target AVI

By Easton Smith


On Oct. 5 workers, faculty and students from both Hunter and Sarah Lawrence colleges were joined by union representatives and New York activists for a rally in front of Manhattan’s Hunter College against AVIFresh, an anti-union dining service corporation.

Demonstrators held UNITE HERE Local 100 flags, placards showing solidarity with the workers, and signs calling for justice and a boycott. The crowd sang chants like “No justice, no peace” and “Solidarity Forever.”

Hunter College workers explained how AVIFresh has given them nothing and how the company wants them to get a 401k when the workers don’t want a 401k.  Workers shared stories of living with kids while the threat of no health care lingers over them and of their worries about not having a pension plan. Students and faculty spoke about possible boycotts. One faculty member addressed the crowd, saying, “It seems like they have not got the news: slavery days are over. … We are not the criminals. They are the criminals!” As the rally was ending, workers, students and union representatives attempted to present a petition to the president of Hunter College, Jennifer Raab. As they attempted to get on the elevator they were stopped by security guards, who explained that since the people there (including the AVI workers) were not employees of the college they were not allowed to go to the president’s office. After some negotiating a few of the workers were allowed to go up, where they were met not by the president but by a representative who took the petitions.

This rally caught the attention of hundreds of onlookers including the heads of AVI. It was a rally aimed at reminding AVI that its dream of a submissive, weak and disconnected workforce will not become a reality. They had so ignorantly hoped that they could disconnect the workers at Hunter College from those at Sarah Lawrence, and that they could rely on physical distance, size, relative cost and the public and private sectors of these colleges to destroy any sense of solidarity. These hopes of AVI were exemplified on Oct. 8, at negotiations between Hunter College AVI workers and AVI company representatives.

AVI’s dishonest advertising

AVI, which touts itself as an Ohiobased “family-owned” business, has made an assault on the working people of New York. Grabbing hold of new food service contracts in the New York area in 2009 at Hunter and Sarah Lawrence colleges, AVI is quickly becoming a force in the Northeast school cafeteria scene.  AVI boasts a subtitle of “The Family Difference in Dining Services” on their Web site and markets their business as a conscious and friendly one. Looking at their Web site or talking to their “Human Relations” people, one would think of the words “honest” and “fair,” but since their arrival at Sarah Lawrence College and Hunter, the word that seems to loom in the air is “union-busting.”

AVI began their assault quietly, over the summer, as students and faculty left the campuses and turned their minds away from their respective college communities.  At Sarah Lawrence all workers who wished to transfer their employment from Flik (the former food service provider at the school for over 30 years) were promised employment. Despite this promise, 14 workers were suddenly fired right after being “hired.”

Hunter College workers, many of whom have seen multiple food service contractors come and go, were equally caught by surprise when they learned that their long-held and seemingly standard benefits of free family health care and pensions were denied by AVI outright. These injustices only marked the beginning of a long and continuing campaign by AVI aimed at destroying any sense of dignity, unity, justice or hope in the workplace.

A few examples of the injustices show that this company has launched an intentional and well-organized crusade to establish dominance in the workplace and destroy any worker’s hope for better working conditions. Reported incidences at Sarah Lawrence include managerial verbal and physical abuse, unpaid hours, loss of seniority, insufficient pay increases, disrespect of workers’ basic scheduling needs and the use of racial slurs in the workplace. Many of these violations are connected to the concerted anti-union campaign that has been launched at Sarah Lawrence. These violations prove that from the onsite managers to the heads of the company, AVI could not care less about their “team members,” as Human Resources manager, Bob Farmer, and vice president for Business Development, Richard Martin, so cheerfully label them.  AVI’s campaign against working people is ultimately, however, a naïve one that lacks any knowledge of the Hunter and Sarah Lawrence cafeteria workers’ strong will and fighting spirit. AVI’s assault on workers has only emboldened the workers and those who stand in solidarity with them to not stand down until justice is obtained.

Smith is a member of the Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) youth group.


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