As we all strive for a better future as bright-eyed college students, the shadows of the working poor trail us, and offer a painful reminder of reality in our ‘win or lose’ society.
The problem is seemingly invisible. The reticence of stress and struggle is buried beneath the roar of the successful. However, struggling individuals are all around us, and as they may conceal their predicament with friendliness and grins, their struggles are nonetheless real. A particularly relevant example to us City College students is the collection of cafeteria workers who serve our food. On average in the United States, cafeteria workers earn approximately $9.50 per hour. Above minimum wage, but not enough to adequately support oneself and his/her family. Hence, we may be confronted with working poverty more than we think. More importantly, some of you reading this may even experience the poignant repercussions of working poverty.
Our cafeteria workers face another problem: job insecurity. Earlier this year, when officials from the CCNY administration put forth a Referral for Proposals (RFP) for a new contractor to operate the cafeteria, the language of the proposal did not include protections of the current worker’s employment, nor did it include provisions ensuring the workers benefits or pay. The threat of pay cuts or job loss was very real. But CCNY students and the Harlem community responded, with a petition calling on administration to guarantee their jobs, and it gathered nearly 1000 signatures. There still is much work that needs to be done, but this response was just one simple way in which we can improve the lives of those who toil and work hard everyday on our campus.
As students aiming to achieve success in our desired careers, and serve as ideal role models for our community, we also must show respect and compassion to our fellow human beings. Those of us who frequent the cafeteria or cafes on campus encounter fellow New Yorkers who have similar backgrounds to us, who may or may not look like us, and may or may not have children with similar aspirations to us, but are attendant in their duty of providing us with fresh food. Many of these workers work diligently at their jobs, and then go on to work a second job or overtime shift just in order to provide for themselves and family. They complete their jobs with humility and respect, and often with a courteous smile to each customer.
The little we can do is acknowledge their service to our campus community. Some may chastise this effort, most likely out of negative experience, and I do not doubt the truthfulness of their claims; but as rational, educated people we must understand that there is more to the people behind the lunch counter than their experiences with us. They have children, hobbies, and needs just as much as we do. Moreover, on average, they treat us with respect and dignity.
I must emphasize this point: our cafeteria workers work hard everyday, under the stress of two or more jobs, family, etc., and we must show compassion and gratitude for their endeavors. We have an opportunity to do such good next Friday, April 17th, at 2:30pm. A coalition of student groups on campus are hosting a Worker Appreciation Event for our workers on campus. It will be an event filled with entertainment, enjoyment, and more importantly gratitude for of all those who do so much without any wished in return. I hope you, the reader, will demonstrate your compassion and care and affect the lives of fellow human beings in a positive manner.