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“We Are All Fast Food Workers Now” addresses labor education locally and globally

Jessica Kergo
Connector Staff

On Thursday, Sept. 20, UMass Lowell’s Labor Education Program hosted “We Are All Fast Food Workers Now,” where Dartmouth College history professor Annelise Orleck spoke about her new book “We Are All Fast Food Workers Now: The Global Uprising Against Poverty Wages.”

The book calls to attention the plight of wage workers from various industries throughout the world. Orleck explained that instead of adopting a triumphant narrative about the progression of labor conditions, she wanted to put the focus on today’s dangerous industries.

“The labor movement is in fact, rising again,” Orleck said as she called attention to the nationwide McDonald’s protest against workplace sexual harassment that occurred two days prior to the event.

Orleck went on to explain the book’s discussion of the “global economy,” which contains industries whose workers are often overlooked. She said that one of the main goals of the movement is to make the invisible visible. She touched on various labor workers across the world who are advocating within the movement.

Industries the book addresses include the fast food service industry, the hotel cleaning industry and migrant farm workers. Members of the movement are fighting issues such as low wages, poor working conditions and sexual harassment.

The professor explained how protesters and labor workers are always coming up with new and innovative ways to protest, which she referred to as “global popular culture”. She mentioned protests that have taken the form of flash mobs, singing, dancing and even fashion shows.

Orleck also noted how the movement is largely comprised of young people.

“I think there’s an interesting ripple that’s going from young people to old people that is really going to change the world” said Orleck.

While Orleck highlighted earlier successes of the movement, like the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, she noted that the movement still has a long way to go.

“Its not easy,” she said, “It’s a terrible fight and people are paying the ultimate price.”

Next, members of the Aramark workers Union, a union that represents employees of the university dining provider, took to the podium to discuss the workplace circumstances that lead them to unionize.

“I called it a hell job,” said Malissa Davis, an Aramark employee at UMass Lowell.

Davis claimed that on top of their $9/hour wage, they were often yelled at and mistreated by the company, prompting them to start a union in the Winter of 2016.

“After the union, everything improved,” said Joanna Rojas, Lowell resident and UMass Lowell Aramark employee.

According to the workers, they received little push back because around 80% of the workers were supportive of it. They have received pay raises and continue to advocate for more respect from the company.

Last to address the crowd was Tess George, a representative form UMass Lowell’s adjunct faculty union. According to George, adjunct faculty at UMass Lowell have been working for the past three years without a contract. Unlike full time professor’s, adjunct professors are not offered health care benefits, social security or a pension.

“We don’t generally think of [college] as a place of exploitation, but as for adjunct faculty, that’s what it is” said George.

George explained that even though UMass Lowell students pay the second highest tuition in the UMass system, UMass Lowell adjunct faculty are paid, on average, around $20,000 a year which is less than both UMass Amherst’s and UMass Boston’s. Adjuncts are also not permitted to participate in faculty governance or meetings despite making up around 45% of professors at UMass Lowell according to George.

UMass Lowell’s Labor Education program is an interdisciplinary program that provides training, education and support to workers and unions as well as a Labor Studies minor in the College Fine Arts Humanities and Social Sciences.

“It’s a great line of study if [students] want to work in human resources, labor research, policy research or union research,” says senior economics major and labor studies minor, Alessandra Greco. “You get to interact with not just the campus but the community as well.”

Varun Palnati, another student minoring in Labor Studies, agreed. “I like being able to take a look at the labor market from the point of view of the workers. It’s a perspective that doesn’t get told a lot.”

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