An Open Letter from Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS)

June 4, 2012

An Open Letter from Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS)

Dear Friends,

After more than 14 months since Emory University ordered our arrests, we have recently been notified that a DeKalb County State Court judge has placed the matter on the dead docket. This means there will be no further prosecution of our case at this time.

This is a moment of great relief, filled with gratitude for the many family members, friends, professors, and workers who have supported us throughout the last year as we dealt with the stress of facing criminal prosecution for nonviolent dissent on our own university campus. However, we remain focused on the well-being of contracted workers at Emory, who continue to hold a second-class position in our community and face violations of their human rights during the school year and summer months.

Contracted workers are not entitled to the same benefits and privileges that Emory employees enjoy. There is not a space at Emory where they can participate in decision-making on matters that impact their lives or any institution at Emory that is responsible for how they are treated. Contracted workers do not have access to free MARTA passes through the “Emory Transit Subsidy Program” that other workers at Emory are entitled to. The least paid workers on our campus should not bear the heaviest financial burden of getting to and from Emory.

For most contracted workers, the end of the academic year signals a time of impending hardship, as they are effectively laid off for the summer. This temporary and seasonal nature of work, created by the structure of the academic calendar, makes contracted workers especially vulnerable to intimidation or abuse in the workplace. If they speak out, they risk not being rehired for the next school year. Sodexo’s mandatory closed-door, anti-union meetings at Emory’s campus facilities are a clear example of such intimidation. Such practices of intimidation threatens workers’ rights “to just and favorable conditions of work” and “to form and join unions for the protection of their interests” as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Emory must ensure that all workers on its campus are able to work in safe environments free of intimidation or fear of reprisal.

When contracted workers are laid off during the summer, finding temporary work to support themselves and their families is particularly difficult, especially in our current economy. Until this year, Emory’s contracted workers had access to unemployment insurance to help keep them afloat. However, new state-level regulations now deny workers at educational institutions eligibility for unemployment insurance during the summer. A Sodexo employee alerted SWS members about this change. She described how she and her coworkers were devastated, asking themselves “how are we going to live?” This new statewide policy also violates workers’ human rights, as the UDHR clearly states that “everyone has the right… to protection against unemployment.”

The hardship and undue suffering experienced by those who serve food or provide other essential services at Emory should concern all of us. True, Emory itself is not directly intimidating contracted workers, laying them off every summer or holiday break, or denying them access to unemployment insurance. However, if contracted workers provide for the Emory community and Emory in turn benefits from their labor, Emory is ethically bound to ensuring they are treated with dignity and respect. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: Few are guiltybut all are responsible.

After more than two and a half years of investigating these issues and having dialogues with the community about possible solutions, SWS’s recommendations to 1) institute a President’s Commission on Class and Labor, 2) implement an Ethical Code of Conduct, and 3) make free MARTA passes available to all workers at Emory without discrimination, have either been ignored, dismissed, or only partially adopted. Specifically, in response to SWS pressure, Emory administrators established a temporary Committee on Class and Labor. While the Committee is temporary and has limited transparency, it is a promising first step. We hope their recommendations, due later this summer, will include the establishment of a permanent body to ensure workers’ rights and the immediate inclusion of contracted workers in the Emory Transit Subsidy Program so that all workers have access to free MARTA passes.

A permanent institutional body, accountable to the Emory community, would set and implement new policies like the elimination of closed-door anti-union meetings on Emory’s campus and investigate the adequacy of Emory’s “living wage” standard in light of significant periods of unemployment and denied access to unemployment insurance. In short, it could help ensure fair and equitable labor standards for all employees at Emory.

Throughout the life of SWS, in our highest moments of hope and our lowest moments of frustration, we have always found inspiration and strength in the bravery and persistence of the workers on this campus and the continued vigilance, care, and wisdom of hundreds of faculty supporters. The establishment of a permanent committee and the execution of its mandate will only be successful if we continue to work together and lift Emory up to its mission to apply “knowledge in the service of humanity.”

Our sincere thanks,

Students and Workers in Solidarity

Keep in touch! Email us at, or find us on Facebook.

Wondering how you can help? Contact Emory President James Wagner: james.wagner@emory.edu404-727-6013, and encourage him to make free, subsidized MARTA passes available to contracted workers (just as they are made available to other Emory employees) and form a permanent Committee on Class and Labor.

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*Urgent* – Court Date Postponed


COURT DATE DELAYED: Our attorney has just informed us that the October 6th arraignment date is not taking place because the case has not been formally accused yet (“accused” basically means “indicted” in misdemeanor cases). It is not clear at this point if this is a result of inaction by Emory or the State. We’ll keep you posted as soon as we hear of the next date!!!

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The Legal Battle is not OVER!

Join the Emory 7 on October 6th, 2011 as they head back to court. (Facebook Event Link Below)

At 8:30am on Thursday, October 6th, the seven students who were arrested on Emory’s Quadrangle in April 2011 will be arraigned at the DeKalb County Courthouse. They have been charged with criminal trespassing by Emory University.

Their crime? Sitting peacefully in a tent after spending five days on the Quadrangle, where they sought to raise awareness of the discriminatory, two-tiered labor system at Emory that has resulted from subcontracting ethical responsibility to multi-national corporations (such as the food service company Sodexo). Emory students, staff, faculty, and campus workers, as well as members of the greater Atlanta community, are encouraged to attend in order to support the Emory Seven and stand in solidarity with contracted workers.

A peaceful vigil will be held at 8:30am outside the Courthouse (near the roundabout to Decatur Square). Signs, musical instruments, and early morning enthusiasm are welcome!

If coming from Emory, you may catch the free CCTMA shuttle to downtown Decatur. A map and schedule can be found here:

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Letter from Reverend Joseph Lowery to the Emory Administration

This letter was read at the Emory Seven Respond the day after 7 students were arrested for protesting on the Quadrangle.

To the Emory Administration,

Students from Cairo, Madison, and now Emory University here in Atlanta are standing up for human rights for the working people of the world. They are standing up against the current attacks on the middle class way of life and for the inherent dignity of each worker.

While I cannot be here today in person, I am with you in spirit. I am proud of the courage you show to stand with the people that prepare and serve you food every day. With each new generation, the students continue the tradition we started in the Civil Rights Movement not to rest until there is justice for all.

President Wagner, I call upon you to uphold your moral responsibility not only for the students but for the entire community. Once again, in times of moral upheaval, it is students that point us toward the right course of action.

As a community leader, you have a responsibility to make sure the rights of workers at Emory are protected. We have a moral responsibility to make sure the rights and dignity of Emory workers are protected. Trans Africa forum and other organizations have cited violations of law, labor standards, and human rights agreements by Sodexo in Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Morocco, and the United States. In your response letter to the students, you say the workers have access to vote for a union through the NLRB. In light of the Trans Africa forum findings, how would Emory work to make sure Sodexo would not coerce nor intimidate the workers into voting no for the union?

We have seen too many cases of threats, intimidation, and action meant to create fear among the workers to take Sodexo at their word. The workers at Emory need to be able to exercise their right to form a union without fear of reprisals from their employer. Let us heed what the students are saying: Emory needs to take an active role in protecting the rights of workers.

As another class of students prepare to graduate, they look forward to having the prestige and credibility that an Emory diploma brings them for the rest of their life. We also need to make sure that it also carries the moral credibility that Emory’s mission and values aspire to the local and global community. As you know, Dr. Lowery, Dr. King, and others formed the Southern Christian Leadership and therefore, as Dr. King said before, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Well, today, the arc moves us toward justice once again. Please take the moral stand by taking action with the students and community to protect the Sodexo workers on your campus.

In Solidarity,
Reverend Joseph Lowery

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Public Forum May 11th, 2011

Footage from the Public Forum with President Wagner.

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Emory President Agrees to Public Meeting

After 188 Emory professors signed an open letter, Emory’s president has agreed to hold a public meeting on Wednesday, May 11, at 1pm, in White Hall 208, to address Emory’s relationship with Sodexo.

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Seven Students Arrested for Supporting Emory Worker Rights

On Monday, April 25, seven students were arrested on Emory’s campus. They were staging a protest on behalf of some of the lowest paid workers at Emory, those employed Sodexo.

The students describe what happened here.

An open letter from 188 professors addressing the situation is here.

A petition from Emory graduate students is here.

A longer statement from one of the arrested students is here.

Video of the arrest is available here, here, and here.

Overview of the students’ issues with Sodexo is here and here.

Video from the “Sodexo Truth Tour” on Emory’s campus is here.

Fact sheet about Sodexo at Emory is coming soon.

Website of Students and Workers in Solidarity, the Emory student group coordinating protests, is here.

Information about labor protests on other campuses is here.

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