So I just had an illuminating phone chat with one of the labor union stewards, Sue Silvestro, who as you might know works at Pi.
The problem BA has with the benefits package shouldn’t be a problem at all. During the contract negotiations, the labor union presented each of the bidders with an honest evaluation of their current situation with Aramark, including hours, wages, number of people employed and their benefits package. “No matter what it costs, however,” Silvestro said, “you were given the contract upfront…we did not want to be blamed once again for their failure [to remain solvent].” Silvestro added, “We do have a good package. But we’ve bargained in good faith for over thirty years to get that package.”
In negotiations, BA promised to maintain the service, without cutting staff, wages or benefits. “They were shocked to hear that Wesleyan students cared so much about worker’s rights,” Silvestro said. “We have talked amongst ourselves and we have all agreed that they have no idea of what these students are like—and that’s meant to be seen in the best light. Students on this campus care. They care about recycling. They care about food waste feeding the poor. They care about worker’s rights. And [BA] has not experienced that at any other university.”
However, over the past two weeks, BA has made those same cuts it promised not to, and it’s having an impact on the staff. Delmar Crim, Bon Appetit’s district manager described BA’s recently discovered position that the benefits package is impractical and uncommon (however, they did not seem to have a problem with it during the bidding).
While benefits are available for workers who work 20 hours or more a week, Silvestro noted that much of the staff has seen their hours cut to 17.5 hours a week—a flagrant move, in my opinion, to shortchange them on benefits. She noted that many 40-hour staffers have seen their hours cut to 37.5 as well, in order to deny them full-time benefits. While in his emailed response, Delmar claimed that there are 69 full-time staff positions at Wesleyan, Silvestro and others in the staff note there are only two with the recent changes.
Overall, 149 hours have been trimmed from the staff’s schedules, which, as you can see, could mean a big savings to BA if they strategize which hours they’re cutting. Silvestro expressed the anxiety these changes are causing amongst the staff, describing a recent phone call with a colleague who is afraid of a family member going in for surgery not knowing whether he will have the health insurance to cover it. “People with lower hour jobs are coming to work this year fearing that any small cut could lose them their benefits…This is an unfair labor practice which compromises the standard of living of the staff” she explained.
Fresh Food? How?
One of BA’s promises was to deliver food almost entirely local and fresh. As Silvestro explains, when Aramark received their bid, for five years, Summerfields operated on a “fresh food” model, making everything from scratch. Obviously, the food was a hit with students and it was one of the more successful operations on campus. However, fresh food requires more labor than dumping frozen fried chicken into a fryer or opening a can. Silvestro believes that because fresh food is inherently labor-intensive, the quality of food will be compromised in relation to the hours that are cut. So these cuts are not promising.
Hours Cut Already
Already, Silvestro explains, Pi may see its hours cut. When asked why no workers were scheduled to work at Pi over the weekends, BA responded with ambiguity, stating they were unsure whether they’d actually be keeping it open over the weekend. There have also been talks of canceling late night with the compromise of keeping Usdan’s a la carte operation open slightly longer. As noted previously, this probably won’t sit well with students.
A la Carte + Less Cashiers =Longer Lines = Bigger Profits
Silvestro explained how Crim said that Usdan was designed to cut back on labor. Segmented into stations, there is less room for workers behind the scenes. It doesn’t need as many cashiers. However, anyone can foresee how this will pan out: if you have an a la carte operation between the hours of 8am and 3pm, and student traffic concentrates between the hours of 11:50pm and 1:10pm and you have less cashiers to service the students each grabbing only one or two things, well, gee, I think that’s going to mean long lines. But since students have to pay for the meal plan and are forced to eat there anyway, dealing with longer lines and grumbling students doesn’t bother BA because they aren’t afraid of us eating somewhere else. So this is just one example of how cuts are made which affect workers–which in turn affect students directly.
Bon Appetit, Silvestro believes, sees Wesleyan as their break into the world of elite colleges, including the Ivy League and other selective schools. Our contract was seen as a critical strategic move and so they made big promises. “They promised you the world,” she said. But like Aramark, which failed, in Silvestro’s opinion, largely because it failed to listen to the students, BA seems to be modeling itself on those very same failures.
“Wesleyan has a role in this as well. They aren’t able to make a move without Wesleyan’s approval,” said Silvestro reminds us.
- Related: Argus coverage of worker concerns after BA wins contract (buried quite a few paragraphs down).
- Workers Hold Vigil for Health Benefits – by Ben Popper