At noon on March 21st, Carlos Vera shared the story of Maria. Maria has worked at AU for 30 years. Vera’s post details Maria’s experience of being forced to clean the entirety of SIS as well as the Sports Center every day. In addition, Maria is forced to eat her lunch in a supply closet and has been reprimanded for not thoroughly cleaning the stairs of SIS, a job intended for one person.
To say that Maria is dedicated to this university does not do Maria’s warmth and hard working spirit justice. In sharing Maria’s story, AU student, Becca Thimmesch, noted a particularly moving incident in which Maria was so excited to hear of a staff member’s wife going into labor that she almost ran her down in the hallway rushing to bring him the gift she had picked for the new baby. For this reason and so many others, it is no surprise that Maria’s story has left an impact on the AU community and beyond. In comparison to the usual hundred or so shares and likes Vera’s posts receive, Maria’s story has been shared across Facebook almost 20,000 times.
In response to the feedback the post received, after neglecting to follow up for over 5 years, the union representing Maria’s workers, 32BJ SEIU contacted Maria in hopes of addressing her situation immediately. Countless individuals through Facebook as well as multiple news media outlets wanting to share her story have since contacted Maria.
As a student at AU, it’s most likely that you knew Carlos Vera before this week. If you aren’t lucky enough to know him personally, you definitely know his Facebook posts on his own profile and through his project, Exploited Wonk. These heartfelt and angry posts describe the conditions our workers face under Aramark’s rules. In taking the time to see the dining and housekeeping workers for what they are, people being mistreated under the supervision of our university, Vera has demanded better conditions for our workers since day one. Despite the outrageous adversity our workers face, the backlash against Aramark and our administration who allows them to operate in this manner and the support for Vera’s fight has been minimal. Until now.
Maria’s story has brought the attention workers and their rights deserve on this campus, but why? The answer is simple. While we don’t often see representation of her, we all know a Maria. If not Maria herself who serves as a figure of kindness to so many of us here at AU, we know of another man or woman who works hard in the custodial industry only to be exploited and mistreated. When we look at Maria’s photo and hear her story, we see the worker in our lives who has been silenced.
Maria’s story and the widespread publicity it has received through thousands of shares to news interviews is the first of its kind representing the oppression of custodial workers, specifically those of the Latinx community. With this platform, American University has the opportunity to become a trailblazer, the first of its kind in worker reform, setting an example for places like other schools or even the Capitol where this same mistreatment is occurring; women just like Maria are suffering.
Thousands have heard Maria’s story. We have the momentum. Let’s lead the movement. We as members of the AU community must demand more for our workers.