Thursday, April 04, 2013

Opinion piece by Simon Evnine in Miami Hurricane

An opinion piece by philosophy professor Simon Evnine appears in today's Miami Hurricane (the student newspaper of the University of Miami). The full text of the editorial, which appears in the newspaper in shortened form, is here:

Pursuing Justice: Chartwells, the University, and the Union 

In today’s globalized world, our social relations with other people are sometimes simple, sometimes hidden and complex, and sometimes both at once, in different ways. You relate simply and directly to the Chartwells food service workers when you buy a sandwich or a cup of coffee at many places on campus (including the dining facilities in the residence halls). You may see them on a regular basis, know their names, smile and chat with them. But you are also connected to these same people via a complex set of relations you probably hardly think about. The very people who put food in your hands are the employees of a company, Chartwells, that, in turn, is employed by the University of Miami to provide these services. And you are part of UM. 

These workers with whom you interact on a daily basis are paid, on average, $9.50 per hour. This is well below what Miami-Dade county determines is a ‘living wage.’ For a single adult, a living wage is considered to be $12.06 per hour. Since campus food service workers are furloughed when classes are not in session, and since they have had their hours cut back in a move by Chartwells to squeeze the same work from them for less money, many of them make around $10,000 a year. In other words, your friendly food service workers on campus are paid poverty wages. To try and improve their pay and working conditions, a majority of these workers have officially signified their desire to join a union. Chartwells, however, is refusing to respect this choice. 

Regrettable as you may find this, you may well be asking yourselves what it has to do with UM, and hence with you. Is this not a matter between Chartwells and its employees alone? Well, imagine that your drain is blocked and you need a plumber. The various plumbers you consider employing all have their assistants. Suppose that some of those plumbers mistreat and underpay those assistants while others do not. While you will obviously be concerned with the cost to you and the quality of the work, is there anything that obliges you, in making your choice, to ignore how a plumber treats his or her assistant? Will you be indifferent to witnessing an abusive relationship as they work on your sink? Or will you make a mental note to find a different plumber next time? The fact that you don’t employ the assistant directly doesn’t make it any easier to be an accessory to their abuse by employing the plumber who abuses them. As a human being, you have all sorts of views about the kind of world you wish to live in, all sorts of conceptions about your moral responsibilities for trying to bring fairness, justice, and dignity to your fellows. Why should any of these ideals disappear just because you are making an economic decision? 

You are the University of Miami. And the University of Miami, through its students, its faculty, and its administrators, believes in fairness, justice, and dignity for all. These values, as they apply to your friendly food service workers, cannot be segregated and excluded by the University just because it does not employ those workers directly. The university can and should make known to Chartwells the value it places on allowing those who work here to pursue the legal means at their disposal to remedy, as quickly as possible, the poverty wages and other workplace problems they face.

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