We Must Take Action to Protect AVI Workers

We are failing. AVI Foodsystems is violating the rights of people working for them on campus, and we are not protecting the workers. Our collective privilege has made us blind to the hooks of capitalism present and persistent here on campus.

The disruption of my ignorance began in the spring when I started working for AVI. Before my first shift, I signed a contract that stated that, as a temporary employee of AVI, I would receive no more than six days off over the entirety of my time with the company. Gravely misunderstanding this policy at first, I left halfway through my first shift — one I had picked up voluntarily — because of a splitting headache. Strike one, I guess. I then called off for a mental health day when I was scheduled to work a night shift and an early morning shift back to back, which I had explicitly told them that I couldn’t do because of my diagnosed insomnia from anxiety. Strike two. When I called out sick after getting my second COVID-19 vaccine dose, I was promptly terminated.

Even though I didn’t take off all six days, AVI was still able to fire me. Ohio is an “employment at will” state, so employers can fire you for basically whatever they want.

I fought like hell to get my job back. I contacted my immediate supervisor, and when she didn’t respond, I contacted Resident Director Caleb Crandall. I emailed him, called him, and met with him in person.

He offered me my job back, and I accepted. I didn’t realize he meant I would still be subject to their six-days-off policy.

Shortly after that conversation, I realized I couldn’t work for a company that didn’t give me the support I needed when I poured my everything into my work. A company that pays only wages with no benefits is not a company that is concerned about its people. Making $13.50 per hour to be belittled, manipulated, and gaslit is not what I nor any of the other employees working for AVI had signed up for.

I refused to compromise my values and stop taking care of myself and my fellow employees. Why should I have had to prove that I deserved basic dignity?

So I quit. I acknowledge that my privilege allowed me to quit, and I recognize that many people cannot do the same. It is a crucible in which to create space for privilege to exist for all people.

We can no longer feign blindness or ignorance when we look upon the plight of those working for AVI. We must acknowledge our privilege and act to influence change. We need to call on AVI to abolish its ableist and discriminatory practice of allowing only six days of excused absence and protect the unionized and student workers alike. We must pursue radical change and justice so that those people are protected here on campus.

I call on President Carmen Twillie Ambar and the College to affirm that we will not operate with a company that harms its students and staff. The College loves to tout its motto: “Think one person can change the world? So do we.” How can the College promote leaders if suffering is the modus operandi and students have no safe space to call “home?”

I also call on the student body to act. We like to think that Oberlin is a bubble, but we cannot avoid politics; we cannot avoid capitalism. AVI is a company that reflects corporate America, and it cannot have a place here in our world if we genuinely care about changing it.

No longer can we perform half-actions. We must make hard choices. We cannot fight for the world’s people if we don’t fight for the ones right here on campus. We must act now.

First, we need to open our eyes and understand the problem. If you feel so inclined, ask a staff member if they are experiencing any issues with AVI. Take the time to listen to them and then report back to your friends and colleagues. Information is the ammunition that we can use to fight our battles. Knowing themes of abuse is the first step in stopping that abuse.

Second, we need change. Do research and support local businesses that provide adequate time off. Tell your friends to do the same. We will buy from AVI again when they have removed their ableist and discriminatory policy of only six days of call-off, issued a formal apology admitting fault, and implemented strategies to prevent disabled or ill students from being penalized in the future. Do not support AVI until they change their problematic policies.

Lastly and most importantly, support AVI’s union and unions in general. Vote to keep unions expansive and healthy. We must first create positive change in the space immediately around us and then let that momentum flow forward. We can change the world, but it must be done one step at a time, little by little, each weary step after the other fraught with blood, sweat, and tears from all of us. The hard work begins now.