Philly Aramark stadium workers demand healthcare, raises, dignity
Collin Kawan-Hemler / People's World

PHILADELPHIA—Aramark food and beverage workers, custodians, and security staff at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center are tired of the company’s greed and refusal to negotiate in good faith after months of bargaining sessions. So, with the support of their neighbors, community, and elected officials, they went on strike between April 25 and 28.

The strike and the workers’ boisterous picket line successfully disrupted Aramark’s profits at the top of the Sixers’ National Basketball Association playoff series.

“Everyone here has been incredible, kind, nurturing, and patient. I am always rewarded for my work ethic which rarely happens. Everyone deserves healthcare and the people here, they inspire me to fight for them because I love them,” said concessions worker G. to the cheers of everyone listening.

Concessions workers at all three of South Philadelphia’s sports stadiums, including Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Banks Park, are represented by Unite Here, Local 274. While the picket line focused on Wells Fargo Center, the union is waging a broader struggle for a single contract that covers all Aramark stadium workers.

Central to the workers’ disciplined and united action was the issue of healthcare; parents want to take their children to the doctors with the insurance they deserve from their hard labor. Aramark, like other U.S corporations, attempts to undermine worker solidarity by paying higher or lower wages according to the stadium at which they’re scheduled. Local 274 would like to see standardized pay across the stadium complex, increased and equitable healthcare benefits, and higher pay raises.

From the crack of dawn to midnight, workers and their allies spread the word to sports fans and potential scab laborers alike: Don’t cross the picket line! A common grievance among workers is that Aramark offered a 25 cent hourly raise in the last round of negotiations when a single beer at Wells Fargo Center costs $15. Workers understand that their underpaid labor brings in enormous profits for Aramark. The Philly-based company reported $18.9 billion in revenue for 2023.

“I’ve had 12 jobs since I was 17—the reason why I’m here today is because I’m tired of being a robot. I’m here to fight for everybody else and myself. We all have a life, we all need to live so [Aramark], give us what we need! Give us what we want–period,” said one worker.

Unite Here conducted a full court press against Aramark in the arena of public opinion. With over 4,000 hospitality workers across the region, the union draws from widespread and deep community support. South Broad Street echoed with solidarity honks from drivers and a bumping sound system which carried speeches and music for blocks.

Local and state-level elected officials, like Working Families Councilmember Kendra Brooks, Pennsylvania State Sen. Nikil Saval, and State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, all expressed their support for the workers’ strike at the picket line.

This strike action was well-organized and ready to escalate. Outside Wells Fargo Center, workers played complimentary roles like leafleting fans as they arrived, speaking with the press and local media, or turning away scabs.

The stadium complex hosts other cash-cow events like Major League Baseball games and pop star concerts. Workers are ready to resume and expand the picket line if Aramark does not begin taking them seriously soon.

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Collin Kawan-Hemler
Collin Kawan-Hemler

Collin Kawan-Hemler is a writer, library worker, and amateur historian from South Philadelphia.