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Students deliver union’s pledge calling for sanctuary campus

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Students deliver union’s pledge calling for sanctuary campus

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By Glenn Billman, news staff

Twenty-five members of the student coalition Huskies Organizing with Labor (HOWL) delivered a pledge written by the Northeastern dining hall workers’ union to President Joseph E. Aoun’s office in the Alumni Center Monday. The pledge called on all employers of UNITE HERE Local 26 union workers to designate their workplaces as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants.

“We believe that wherever we were born or however we came to America, we all belong here,” Local 26’s pledge read. “We therefore call on our employers to join us in publicly demanding that our country’s leaders: […] Make our workplaces sanctuaries for all by keeping [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE out unless they have a warrant.”

HOWL members delivered 13 copies of the union’s pledge over the course of half an hour, along with copies of a letter written by the students demanding that Aoun signs the pledge by Jan. 13. Addressing Aoun directly, HOWL members wrote, “subcontracted or otherwise, [a worker] deserves to have your word that you will support them no matter what.”

The letter also asks Aoun to denounce proposed policies by President-elect Donald J. Trump. HOWL organized the demonstration four days after protesting with Northeastern dining hall workers outside of the Alumni Center.

Around 3 p.m. Monday, HOWL members received an email from Assistant Dean of Student Involvement Jason Campbell-Foster asking to meet with the group to discuss the letter.

HOWL members declined to meet with Campbell-Foster, writing in their email that they had asked Aoun to sign the pledge and wanted “him to meet with us directly in order to discuss it.”

“I think it would be a huge step for [Aoun] and a huge statement to show solidarity with the workers in the way students are doing,” said Ben Simonds-Malamud, a HOWL member and sophomore English major. “I also think in terms of the wider movement against Trump and against bigotry, that it would show a lot for the students and workers and administrators of the university to all be standing together and saying the same thing.”

Northeastern spokesperson Matthew McDonald said in an email to The News that dining hall workers are not directly employed by the university and that the union was not seeking a signature from Aoun for their pledge.

“The university contracts with a food services vendor, in this case Chartwells, and that vendor is the employer,” McDonald said. “The Local 26 document requested a signature from the employer, which in this instance is Chartwells.”

However, Local 26 spokesperson Tiffany Ten Eyck said in an email to The News that the union wants Aoun to agree to the principles laid out in the pledge.

“Students and workers should feel safe at our universities regardless of their national origin, religion or immigration status,” Ten Eyck said. “On issues of such importance to our university community, we believe that President Aoun and the leadership of Northeastern University have the power, and the obligation, to make this a reality.”

On Monday, students assembled at Douglass Park at about 11:30 a.m. before walking down Columbus Avenue to the Alumni Center in groups of five or six people at a time. They gathered in the basement of the building and then delivered the letters to the receptionist for Aoun’s sixth-floor office in groups of two to three students at a time.

After five letters were delivered, two Northeastern University Police Department (NUPD) officers appeared outside the office but allowed students to continue to drop off letters. Around 10 minutes later, the officers dispersed.

One of the NUPD officers then joined students in the Alumni Center basement and asked if they were planning to stage a sit-in, which they said they were not. After speaking to Simonds-Malamud, the officer left the basement.

Kerrina Williams, a HOWL member and sophomore history major, said she was disappointed by the way the university handled the students’ peaceful protest.

“There is something to be said when students are going to a building on the campus that they pay to [attend] and they’re greeted by police, multiple police officers,” Williams said. “And interrogated and asked why they’re there.”

In addition to requesting a sanctuary designation, the pledge called on Aoun to oppose the creation of a registry for any group within the U.S.; protect the rights of employees to bargain collectively; grant excused absences to employees who strike for the demands of the pledge; and support the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.

DACA allows federal immigration authorities to defer deportations for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were younger than 16 years old, while DAPA empowers federal officials to defer deportations for the parents of American children and permanent legal residents.

Aoun signed a statement Nov. 22 along with more than 500 college and university presidents in support of expanding DACA. HOWL member Pratik Dubey commended Aoun for publicly supporting DACA but said it was urgent that Aoun signs the union’s pledge.

“Trump has promised to, in his first 100 days in office, deport 11 million people,” said Dubey, a sophomore political science and international affairs major. “We recognize that a lot of the workers here at Northeastern are immigrants, and I don’t know what their immigration status is and I don’t think I should. I don’t think that Northeastern should provide that information to ICE or anyone else because, quite frankly, the workers here are an integral part of the community and it would just be unfair to have them working at a place they don’t feel safe.”

If Aoun does not sign Local 26’s pledge by Jan. 13, Dubey said HOWL will escalate its campaign, although he does not yet know how.

“If they do sign it, it’s probably not because we delivered 13 letters in a row,” Simonds-Malamud said. “But the main important thing is we have a timeline now, and so we’re going to see how stuff plays out.”

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Students deliver union’s pledge calling for sanctuary campus