Fall for the Book Authors Back Dining Workers in Latest Ad

Ten writers in this year’s Fall for the Book festival are lending their support to the Service Employees International Union which is currently assisting Sodexo workers in their dispute over alleged low wages and poor working conditions on the Mason campus.

The signatures appear at the bottom of an ad in the form of a letter addressed to the university community. The ad can be seen in Monday’s issue of Broadside.

The first paragraph of the letter-ad expresses the writers shared sentiments, and draws on the theme of their participation in the Fall for the Book festival:

“Dear George Mason Community,
We are honored to participate in this year’s Fall for the Book festival at George Mason University. As journalists, novelists, and poets, we are all storytellers, and we are deeply disturbed by one story that we’ve heard about right here: the working conditions of Sodexo food service employees on campus.”

The following Fall for the Book participants attached their support to the letter-ad: Alison Bechdel, Bill McKibben, Brenda Hillman, Craig Hughes, David Swanson, Jabari Asim, Jane Smiley, Jennifer Egan, Mark Nowak and Sarah Pekkanen. SEIU contacted the participants via e-mail asking for their support of the dining workers.

Matt Painter, SEIU Assistant Director of Communications, explained the union’s motivation for reaching out to the Fall for the Book participants.

“Since the Fall for the Book participants are coming to GMU, participating in the academic life of the university, we felt they should know about what is going on with the Sodexo workers,” Painter said in an interview.

By supporting the Mason dining workers, Painter said the Fall for the Book participants are providing a different kind of support to the workers’ claims. He said their comments are an important addition to the comments already expressed by people on campus.

Some writers have agreed to verbalize their support of the union during their festival presentations.

“We are still talking with an author who was willing to comment on the situation, and it is expected that some Sodexo workers will participate in writer presentations as well,” Painter said. “It’s about broadening support and informing participants on campus.”

One of the signatures in the ad belongs to David Swanson, author of “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency.”

“The organizers of the letter asked me to sign and I agreed immediately without any need for persuasion,” Swanson said when contacted via email. “These workers are exercising our democracy, which will otherwise wither and die. I should think the very least we could do is say we support them, and that we ought to strategize other ways to back them up,” he added.

Swanson also said he expects to mention his support of the Sodexo workers during his talk at Harris Theater on the Fairfax campus, Thursday, Sept. 23, from 10:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m.

Poet and Fall for the Book participant, Mark Nowak also explained his decision to support the Sodexo workers.

Nowak is the author of, “Coal Mountain Elementary” (2009) and a distinguished writer of “labor poetics.” As a former fast food employee and current writer and researcher of labor issues, Nowak also felt the decision to join with Sodexo was an easy one.

“Throughout my entire high school and undergraduate career, I worked between 30 and 40 hours per week at a Wendy’s in Buffalo, N.Y., so I have quite extensive knowledge about working conditions in the industry,” Nowak said when reached by email Saturday afternoon.

“What is happening to the Sodexo workers is so intimately a part of my personal history and my own research and writing that I can’t imagine doing anything but supporting these workers,” Nowak continued.

As part of his involvement in this year’s festival, Nowak is scheduled to give a talk on “Occupational Folklore” and he expects the Sodexo worker’s situation to be part of his discussion. The event is scheduled to be held in Dewberry Hall on the Fairfax campus, Monday, Sept. 20 from 6-7:15 p.m.

When notified of some participant’s involvement in the Sodexo ad, Fall for the Book posted this statement on their website:

“Fall for the Book and many festival events are hosted by George Mason University, which uses the Sodexo company for campus food service. Sodexo recently was the subject of complaints from some of its workers, and was the subject of a two-day strike. The workers’ union contacted writers coming to Fall for the Book to invite their support. Fall for the Book respects the rights of those writers who have offered their support, and it supports the workers in their request to have grievances addressed. The university is investigating the complaints and has hired independent investigators as well to look into some of the allegations.”



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