Protesters address Ohio Union’s design and employee treatment

COLUMBUS, Ohio (The Lantern) — Chants and drumbeats rang outside the new Ohio Union as two groups took advantage of the opening ceremonies Monday to draw attention to two very different issues.

Ohio State architecture students complained that the $118 million building is visually dull. And a group of students concerned about social-justice issues joined with union members to protest how food-service workers are treated at the Schottenstein Center and Ohio Stadium.

The student organization United Students Against Sweatshops, members of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, and some workers complained that a contractor that works for the Athletic Department treats its employees badly.

The Athletic Department has a contract with Sodexo, which provides food-service workers for the Schottenstein Center and the stadium.

Juanita Sanchez, the leader of the 20 protesters, said Sodexo hasn’t given many workers raises or promotions in a long time.

Furthermore, the company doesn’t provide any benefits, she said. 

“We want to bring awareness to labor practices,” Sanchez said. “Ohio State is the largest university in the country and has the power to influence others.”

The protesters handed out leaflets that claimed that Sodexo employees at OSU “make as little as $8.50 an hour, and many have no benefits.”

Chelsea Pflum, a member of the sweatshop group, said that students involved made attempts to contact President E. Gordon Gee about Sodexo but received no response.

However, the organization did meet with Kate Wolford, Gee’s chief assistant, Pflum said.

In the letters, USAS urges Gee to “extend the right to organize and collectively bargain to subcontracted workers on our campus.” The organization developed an “Ohio State University Labor Code of Conduct” that was sent along with the letters to Gee.

“These OSU workers have faced anti-union intimidation from their employer for standing up for their rights. Through OSU’s contract with Sodexo, you have the ability to ensure that OSU subcontracted employees are able to organize and collectively bargain without fear of intimidation or discrimination,” USAS said in a letter to Gee.

Pflum said many employees are facing foreclosure on their homes and are struggling to pay medical bills.

Sanchez and Pflum said they hoped the protest would spur conversation between Gee and student groups.

Students, employees and pedestrians watched the protest and weighed in with their opinions.

“I support it. My dad is a union representative in Columbus. OSU is big enough, they can share the wealth,” said Molly Shack, a second-year in international studies and Spanish.

Sanchez said because of the new union’s cost, the public has a right to know what is going on at OSU when tax dollars are involved.

Before the protest on behalf of food-service workers, a group of about 30 architecture students began to march, protesting the design of the new building. Led by Greg Delaney, a recent OSU graduate, the group strived to bring awareness to the university’s architectural practices.

“We think OSU is very progressive, but the architecture is very conservative,” Delaney said.

He said the use of brick for the building is not contemporary and that there are ways to use a dominant material and still have a building look modern.

“The location of the Union and use of brick sets the architecture backward,” he said.

The architecture students did not want to attack OSU or halt the opening of the union, Delaney said. He said their mission was to raise awareness because people in the United States don’t have enough knowledge about architecture.

Knowlton Hall, the architecture building on campus, is an example of progressive architecture, he said. Delaney said he feels the Union should embody the spirit of the university, which cannot be achieved by simply throwing scarlet and gray on the inside of the building.

Gee said he was not aware of the protests going on outside the new Union when interviewed by The Lantern.

“The university is a place for people to voice their opinions,” Gee said, “and I’m glad they’re doing it.”

This article is from The Lantern, republished  with permission.

Photo: The Lantern