Student leaders develop documentary for release during spring quarter
The Santa Clara
February 21, 2019
The fight for fair wages and support from the university is far from over for workers in Benson Memorial Center and sophomore Kyle De La Fuente is making sure no one forgets that.
De La Fuente, along with fellow Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCCAP) member and senior Melanie Vezjak, are co-producing a documentary to highlight the hardships Benson workers face on a daily basis.
The 30-minute documentary, set to premiere in April, will be titled, “Do Our Jesuit Values Stop With a Contract?”
The film will feature more than a dozen Benson employees talking about their experiences working for Bon Appetit, the dining hall’s management company.
Benson student workers, as well as other Santa Clara students, have already been recruited for the film. De La Fuente said he has reached out to three Bon Appetit managers about setting up interviews but all have declined to comment on the issue.
The documentary comes after months of negotiations between Benson workers and university administration.
In November, discussions were kick-started by a silent protest held to bring awareness to the struggles Benson employees face.
“After the protest, there was a meeting between student-activists, the university administration and Bon Appetit management,” De La Fuente said. “It didn’t go as well as they thought it would. Having a protest where over 200 students and faculty were involved—they thought it would do something but it really didn’t. That’s when I got the idea that let’s do something more, to make a documentary. Let’s blast this.”
November’s protest was not the first of its kind.
A similar protest was held 10 years ago to bring attention to Benson workers’ unfair wages and discussions to improve working conditions have been in the works with university administration since then.
Although this problem is not a new one, one Benson dishwasher who is featured in De La Fuente’s documentary said that the issues within the dining hall are at an all-time low.
“Forty years inside this cafeteria…and I’ve never been under so much pressure,” said the employee who wished to remain anonymous.
Specific struggles employees discussed include poor working conditions, heavy workloads and insufficient wages and medical benefits.
One difficulty the employees encounter is having to deal with two higher powers—Bon Appetit Management Company, who technically employs the Benson workers and Santa Clara University, who oversees the work environment.
Although Bon Appetit decides the employees’ salaries, the company is subcontracted through the university.
Therefore, Santa Clara has the ability to push Bon Appetit to increase wages and also the discretion to hire a different management company if needed.
Because of this, Benson workers are turning to the university, urging them to put more stringent requirements on Bon Appetit in order to improve their working conditions.
De La Fuente hopes the documentary will show the university administration how serious of an issue this is.
“Where does the university stand when we’re finding out these things about working conditions and the university basically says, ‘We just believe Bon Appetit is going to handle it’?” said Santa Clara senior and director of SCCAP Sarah Locklin while being interviewed for the documentary. “Well, when will it become obvious that Bon Appetit isn’t handling it or can’t handle it?”
The film was supposed to be released in early February, but an unexpected number of students and employees reached out to producers to be featured in it.
“It’s a time-sensitive documentary,” De La Fuente said. “It’s workers’ lives, and with contract negotiations being the central issue—they’re going on right now—we need this to get out as soon as possible, but workers keep reaching out to us. We keep having to set up meetings and interviews with people.”
Although they are a bit behind schedule, De La Fuente said he and some of his fellow SCCAP members are spearheading other campaigns in order to keep the momentum going and encourage people to talk about the issue.
Every month, students like De La Fuente are meeting with university administration and Bon Appetit management to talk about what they think needs to be done.
“We talk about what next steps are in terms of what they think the issues are, but also talking about what we want from them and what we think workers want,” De La Fuente said.
On top of these meetings, informational events are being held in residence halls to raise awareness about the issues. Benson employees are facing and also let students ask any clarifying questions they may have on the topic.
De La Fuente and documentary co-producer Vezjak also run an Instagram account called The Empowermxnt Project (@theempowermxntproject) which updates followers on how the campaigns are going, advertises discussions around campus and gives sneak peaks of the documentary.
A new feature that De La Fuente hopes to incorporate in the Instagram in coming weeks is spotlights of Benson employees.
“We’re going to be interviewing workers and posting pictures with a little infographic of them on social media,” De La Fuente said. “It’s just so students get to know about them, like where they’re from and what they like to do. Kind of to build a more personal connection with them, more than just being handed your food from them.”
The documentary’s creators hope concrete change will come from the film which highlights personal accounts of struggles taken upon by people in the campus community.
“We want to remind people that Benson workers are going through a lot,” De La Fuente said. “Although it may seem like we can’t really help them, we can do things just like asking them how their day is going or thanking them for a meal.”
Contact Kimi Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.