By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor March 15, 2005
GOLDEN VALLEY As readers recited lines from "An Immigrant Stations of the Cross," a singing procession of 25 people headed towards the corporate headquarters of General Mills. Their purpose: to protest the unjust firing of 18 immigrant workers employed by Aramark, a company under contract to clean offices at General Mills.
"I have a family. I have kids. I need a job," said one of the fired workers, Crystal resident Soledad Ruiz, who had worked at Aramark for 18 months. Pablo Tapia held a crucifix aloft as he led ISAIAH marchers in support of fired Aramark workers.
Labor Review photo
The workers are members of Service Employees International Union Local 26. They were fired after Aramark sent them letters reporting the company found a mismatch when checking their Social Security numbers.
"This is clearly retaliation," said Javier Morillo-Alicea, incoming president of SEIU Local 26, explaining that the letters arrived after SEIU settled a grievance with Aramark in a worker's favor. He added that the letters bore no letterhead and that the Social Security Administration does not require a company to fire workers when finding mismatches. "There is nothing in law that sanctions the firing," he said.
The action in support of the workers was organized by ISAIAH, a faith-based Twin Cities social justice group. "A few of the fired workers are members of ISAIAH congregations," said ISAIAH organizer Elizabeth Badillo Moorman. "It was a natural thing for us to be involved."
In addition to Monday's march at General Mills, community and labor supporters have mounted an e-mail and postcard campaign to urge the company to treat immigrant workers fairly. Several organizations have sent out e-mail alerts to their memberships and union members collected signatures last week outside Aramark-operated cafeterias at the University of Minnesota. http://www.workdayminnesota.org/view_article.php?print=y&id=fe4f8bc1b272c5f84159e3c65bb3b0b1
ISAIAH's marchers, some in biblical costumes, were joined by union members.
After the procession moved about 100 yards inside General Mills' suburban office campus, a General Mills representative asked the group to return to the public sidewalk. They complied, slowly retracing their route and stopping for more readings from "An Immigrant Stations of the Cross." One selection related: "Jesus was condemned even though he was innocent and spoke the truth."
A small delegation from the group later drove up to the General Mills headquarters, met with Aramark representatives, and secured a commitment from Aramark for a meeting to discuss the workers' firing.
"There was no way they could say, 'no, we will not meet with you guys,' said Pablo Tapia, president of the social action group at Sacredo Corazon De Jesus/Incarnation congregation in Minneapolis, an ISAIAH member.
Donations to support the fired workers may be sent to SEIU Local 26, 312 Central Ave., Suite 356, Minneapolis, MN 55414. Make checks payable to SEIU Local 26 with "Aramark Justice Fund" in the memo line.