Spanish and Political science major Abby Alvarez ‘22 organizes to support SCU’s service workers
In March of 2020, over 100 dining services workers lost their jobs working in SCU’s cafeteria. Spanish and Political Science major, Abby Alvarez ‘22 decided she wanted to help. Abby has been organizing labor rights demonstrations and teach-ins since her first year at Santa Clara. She helped create and has been leading Advocacy for Workers on Campus (AWC) since 2019 because of the close bond she and other students developed with the workers. Abby has recently been named a finalist for the Truman Scholarship, a great honor and achievement that recognizes the incredible service work that she has already done.
“Studying Spanish has never meant more than it has in the last few months. All through the summer I received phone calls (many in Spanish) from workers asking if I knew when the school was going to open or if there was anything I could do. Workers had lost their jobs abruptly and didn’t and still don’t know when or if they’ll be hired back. Their health insurance is threatened at a time when record numbers of people are getting sick and working class immigrant communities are being hit the hardest. Benson (dining services) workers are overworked and under-appreciated at the best of times, but during the pandemic, everything has gotten so much worse.
Typically my role in AWC involves meeting with workers regularly and then voicing their concerns to Bon Appetit managers and Santa Clara University Administrators. However, during the pandemic, our demands are not being addressed. While everyone agrees that the situation is terrible, that doesn’t change the public health status of our country or create jobs in a University that is essentially closed. Since my usual avenues for advocacy were at a dead end, I realized I needed to shift the focus of the advocacy we were doing. My goal is to listen to the needs of workers and shape the program accordingly, so in September, I chose to focus on how we could meet the workers’ immediate needs without the assistance of Bon Appetit or SCU Administrators.
I decided to create an emergency fund. The Go Fund Me campaign was shared among students and professors and was intended to help cover the costs of things like groceries, rent, and medical bills. Thanks in part to the skills that I’ve developed and the confidence I’ve gained studying Spanish here at SCU, I’ve been able to translate flyers, write letters, and spend dozens of hours on the phone talking to workers in Spanish about their options. My goal for the fund was $6,000. I ended up with almost $30,000, enough to support all 60 workers who had reached out. I was truly moved by the kindness and generosity that the SCU community showed. The Modern Languages Department was especially supportive, even my own Spanish professor volunteered to help me make some of the phone calls.
While the emergency fund has had a tremendous short-term impact, many workers are still unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. I am continuing to advocate for an extension to their health insurance contract, but ultimately need the University and Bon Appetit to step up in supporting their workers.”
Donate to the SCU Benson Worker Emergency Fund
Learn more about SCCAP and AWC
AWC is currently looking for more Spanish-speaking students to help out! If you’re interested in getting involved: email Eleanore Carper