Dining workers at one Mississippi university disseminate letter alleging poor working conditions, low-quality food and insufficient pay

Published 3:20 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Dining workers at one Mississippi university campus took advantage of the Labor Day holiday to make students, faculty and others aware of what they call poor working conditions at the university.

An anonymous group of Aramark workers on the University of Mississippi campus shared a letter to students detailing extreme understaffing, grossly insufficient pay, and incompetent or uncaring management.

The letter, shared on a newly created Instagram account called umdiningworkers, calls on students to join their fight and push for change on campus.

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Aramark employees make as little as $8 an hour and are not considered university employees, meaning they receive no university employee benefits. The University requires incoming freshmen to purchase a meal plan costing around $2,000. This year’s freshman class is the largest in university history, bringing in record revenue for Ole Miss Dining Services.

Shocking allegations of health violations and poor management have led to the post receiving nearly 3,000 likes and over 100 comments, all in less than 24 hours.

“During Welcome Week this year, one of us had to serve burgers from meat almost a year old. A rich school like this could be feeding y’all all kinds of high-quality local food, but chooses to ship in the cheapest, dirtiest stuff they can find,” the post read. “ Most of what they’ll sell you on about locally-sourced, made-in-house, or eco-friendly food are just straight up lies. Most of it comes in a can.”

Also included in the letter are allegations that recyclables are not being processed separately, but instead being thrown away with trash.

To avoid retaliation, the group of Aramark campus dining workers wishes to remain anonymous, but calls on students to join them in making their voices heard on campus to achieve higher wages and better working conditions for Aramark employees.

Aramark has not responded to requests for comment.

The full letter from umdiningworkers:

“To the students of the University of Mississippi,

For years, we, the Aramark workers of “Ole Miss Dining,” have suffered extreme understaffing, grossly insufficient pay, and incompetent or uncaring management that prioritize Aramark’s profit over the wellbeing of their employees and the students.

We have worked ourselves to the bone every day to try to keep the university fed and healthy while struggling to even pay our own bills. Aramark makes tens of millions of dollars off of our labor while we’re each forced to perform the work of several employees for poverty or near-poverty wages.

Most of us make as little as $8-$11 an hour, and though we work at the university, we aren’t considered university employees. We’re treated as secondary, we receive none of the benefits university employees normally do, and because Aramark is doing the dirty work, the school administration gets to play innocent and still take their cut of the deal.

The university couldn’t run without us, but they won’t pay us enough for most of us to even be able to live in Oxford.

The combination of the university’s largest freshman class in history and the lowest staffing we’ve had in many years has escalated this into a crisis. We have folks quitting every day, understandably, and it continues to get harder for those of us left. Management claims to be trying to hire people, mostly targeting students, but they tend to come and quickly go once they experience the huge imbalance between the work and the pay.

Why would you work at the prestigious flagship university when every fast food place in town pays more?

Those of us that have been here for many months, years, or decades do it because we care about the campus community – our coworkers, the students, the staff. But Aramark doesn’t care enough about us to treat us right. They can easily afford to do that. We shouldn’t be forced out like this.

The situation hurts customers too. Though our wages stay the same, prices rise drastically every year. Many of us see our locations like our own home kitchens, and students and staff as our guests. We want to treat y’all right, but aren’t given the resources to do that.

When y’all are overcharged, when you have to wait in long lines, when the food doesn’t taste right, we know. But there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve had to serve thousands of customers with just three or four workers. We’ve had to try to make something edible out of that whack Sysco produce.

During Welcome Week this year, one of us had to serve burgers from meat almost a year old. A rich school like this could be feeding y’all all kinds of high quality local food, but chooses to ship in the cheapest, dirtiest stuff they can find. We’ve got a lot of us that can throw down in the kitchen, but we’re not really given the chance. Oh, and they don’t tell you this, but most of what they’ll sell you on about ‘locally-sourced’ or ‘freshly-made-in-house’ or ‘eco-friendly’ are just straight up lies.

Most of it comes in a can from California or New York or Michigan or wherever. Even the recycling bins are for show. It all goes to the same place anyways.

As our guests, we want to have a relationship of mutual respect and transparency between us and y’all. This goes both ways. Though it’s Aramark putting us in this bad situation, sometimes students can make it a lot harder. The vast majority of students are great, and we love seeing y’all everyday, hearing how your days are going, and keeping you fed.

However, we also encountered students almost every day that have no respect for us at all. We’ve had students insult us, throw trash at us, leave messes all over our buildings, and in general do not treat us like human beings. We want to treat y’all right, but we also need you to hold yourselves and each other accountable. We want to be on the same side. Try to remind your friends that you’re guests in our kitchen, and we’ll try to be good hosts.

We’re calling on y’all, the students, to help us make dining services better for both of us. As Aramark’s employees and its main customers, we have the power to push them to change. Together, we can make them pay us a living wage and stop gouging y’all on the prices.

We’d all benefit from better ingredients, fully-staffed restaurants, and healthier and happier workers. As students, you can spread the word, support us in the day-to-day, and use your influence to push your school and your dining services to prioritize the both of us over their money. Y’all fight for us, and we’ll do the same. We’re in this together.

-A few of the folks who cook, serve, and clean in y’alls dining halls and food courts”