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Indian American Penn. State Senator Arrested for Protesting Aramark’s Treatment of Philly Stadium Workers

Indian American Penn. State Senator Arrested for Protesting Aramark’s Treatment of Philly Stadium Workers

  • Progressive lawmaker Niki Saval had joined hundreds of union members gathered outside the corporation’s headquarters to demand family-sustaining wages and healthcare benefits.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Nikil Saval was arrested on June 12 at a protest in Philadelphia. The Indian American lawmaker had joined union members working for Aramark, an international food service, facilities, and uniform services provider. It is responsible for food and beverage concessions at Philadelphia’s stadiums. Workers at the  Wells Fargo Center, Citizens Bank Park, and Lincoln Financial Field gathered outside Aramark’s headquarters in downtown Philadelphia to demand family-sustaining wages and healthcare benefits. 

Fifty people, including Saval, were arrested “after sitting down in Market Street and closing it during the busy rush hour,” according to a press release issued by the Pennsylvania State Democrats. According to the press release, despite “boasting a revenue of more than $18 billion in 2023,” Aramark has” offered a raise of only $0.25 for concessions workers at the Wells Fargo Center.” In addition, the corporation’s “healthcare proposal would leave many of its year-round workers uninsured or reliant on government healthcare coverage,” the press release added. 

The protestors gathered outside Aramark’s headquarters in downtown Philadelphia with a giant inflatable cigar-smoking “fat cat” and marched in the area chanting and holding signs that read, “Aramark unfair, Equal treatment now,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. They were joined by demonstrators from other cities, including Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.

State Senator Nikil Saval is arrested and escorted away during a protest outside Aramark’s headquarters in downtown Philadelphia on June 12. Top photo: Saval, seated fourth from the left, participates in civil disobedience with UNITE HERE Philadelphia workers and labor partners as part of the workers’ escalating campaign to win family-sustaining wage increases and access to healthcare. (Photos: Pennsylvania State Democrats website)

Saval, a Democrat, was first elected in 2020. He represents the First District (Philadelphia) in the Pennsylvania State Senate. He is running for re-election this year, “to continue fighting for working families, affordable housing, real solutions to climate change, criminal justice reform, and good jobs,” according to his website.

In a statement released after his arrest, and posted on the Pennsylvania State Democrats website, Saval noted that the labor of the workers belonging to the UNITE HERE union “is a crucial part of what makes Philadelphia great.” These laborers “work year-round — in the blistering cold, in the sweltering heat — to ensure Philly’s residents and visitors enjoy the best possible experiences,” he said. However, “in return, Aramark has repeatedly devalued their labor, leaving them forced to choose between feeding their families, keeping their homes, or seeking potentially lifesaving medical care,” he continued.  “I refuse to let my constituents be mistreated by a wealthy corporation that gets richer every year from exploiting their labor. Their fight is my fight. I’m with them until they’re paid the wages and benefits they deserve.”

The writer and organizer is “proud to call Philadelphia home,” where he and his wife “are raising our two boys, Ishaan and Mayukh,” he says on his website. It is where he has “stood shoulder-to-shoulder with working families from day one,” he adds. “Since being elected to represent the First District in the Pennsylvania State Senate in 2020, I’ve continued to fight for a city and Commonwealth that works for the many and not just the few.”

The son of immigrant parents from Bangalore, he was raised in the backdrop of a deep-dish pizza restaurant they opened in 1982. “Growing up in a family of
immigrants and small business owners, Nikil saw firsthand the values of
solidarity, community, and hard work,” his website notes. 

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His organizing is deeply rooted in the labor movement. From 2009 to 2013, he volunteered as a labor organizer with UNITE HERE, “organizing boycotts against luxury hotel developers to promote the rights of hotel workers and helping to win back the jobs of noontime aides laid off because of Governor Tom Corbett’s budget cuts,” his website says. 

After emerging as a local leader in Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, he co-founded Reclaim Philadelphia, an organization committed to advancing racial, gender, and economic justice throughout the Philadelphia area. He was elected leader of South Philadelphia’s Second Ward in 2018, becoming the first Asian American to hold the position. 

Since he was elected state senator, he “has been leading the way on housing, climate, and worker justice, and has been one of the strongest advocates for fully funding Pennsylvania schools, consistently shown up for and with workers on the picket line, and received the highest grade in the Senate from the ACLU for his votes against bills that will increase mass incarceration,” according to his website. 

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