Firing of Aramark employee raises questions about working conditions



What ever happened to Mr. Wong’s side of the story?

On February 15th, Mr. Steve Wong, an Aramark food service employee who happens to be black, came to work to continue his 11 years of service to SLU that started when he was 19-years-old. That day, Wong had a confrontation with a fellow staff member, who happens to be white, new and higher up the corporate ladder. By the day’s end, this man was able to continue at work while Mr. Wong was sent home, fired and forced to find alternative employment. One would think that there should be immediate follow-up with all parties involved – including Wong. However, months later, no such thing has occurred.

As a student, it is difficult to study on the same campus after those who show you love also express to you that they are being mistreated. For many students, the food service employees of Aramark are more than our neighbors – they are our brothers and sisters. Many of them do more than asking us how our classes, activities and days are going. Facing difficult courses, prospective job markets and everyday student life, they encourage us to be tough, patient and focused. Can you imagine someone who treats you with such love telling you that they’ve been mistreated? Furthermore, can you imagine how it feels to be told that there’s nothing that can be done about it? Unfortunately, I do not have to imagine this because it has happened to me.

As a black student, I feel that it is unacceptable for a corporate entity to boast about quality services while its most vulnerable members feel dehumanized. On campus, those on the margins tend to be people of color who are working in less than favorable conditions while at the same time cleaning up and serving food with a smile.

To be sure, this happens because no one else wants to do the work. Their often-underappreciated effort is met with little material compensation and room for recourse when abuse occurs. However, make no mistake, these are human beings who have a certain value that creates comfort and familiarity for students of color that are in a hostile environment. When you mess with them, you mess with us.

Immediately, I decided to follow up on Mr. Wong’s case by emailing university officials in the community, gathering testimony from workers who would talk, and having meetings to discuss the incident under the guise of “student research.” I was told that this was a “personnel issue,” but was assured that Aramark representatives would know of the University’s interest. After gathering testimony from workers who would talk, I quickly discovered that few felt comfortable talking and fewer held faith that anything would change. After meeting with an Aramark leader, I was repeatedly assured that when the corporation terminates an employee, they do so after covering the bases.

Since my follow-ups, I remain convinced that the corporation’s confidence in its fairness may be misplaced if fairness does not include hearing all parties involved.

It is imperative that we start following up and asking questions. Let’s start with a simple one:

What ever happened to Steve’s side of the story?

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