Tag Archives: labor union

Wes Students Support Yale Grad Student Union in “The Fast Against Slow”

UNITE HERE 217 and Wesleyan Students at Yale for the start of the occupation/strike

Wesleyan students from United Student/Labor Action Coalition and Wesleyan Democratic Socialists joined Yale graduate school employees from UNITE HERE Local 33 on Tuesday evening to kick off a hunger strike meant to pressure Yale administration into entering contract negotiations with the newly-formed union. Eight graduate school employees from Local 33 have committed to an indefinite hunger strike being called “The Fast Against Slow.”

Read more about the strike after the jump:

Support Wesleyan’s Janitorial Staff – PETITION

You gotta fight for your right to partyyyy! ...shit, I think that's the wrong song

Though you may not personally interact with them much (if at all), Wesleyan’s janitors play a critical role in the functioning of our school, cleaning up after the messes we make in our classrooms, dining halls, bathrooms, etc. everyday, constantly working to smooth the transition from one day to the next.

Yet for all of their tireless efforts, they receive “very little pay and even less recognition.” Due to a series of layoffs, the hard jobs of these workers have become even harder lately, and with a fast-approaching February 15th deadline for new bids on Wesleyan’s janitorial contract, the time to make your voice heard on behalf of our janitorial staff is now!

As excerpted from the upcoming Wespeak that will appear in this Tuesday’s Argus:

The workers on which Wesleyan depends deserve our respect. Wesleyan’s commitment to social responsibility must go beyond admissions flyers and parents’ weekend speeches. It must extend to the workers and members of our community on whom we depend.

Support Wesleyan Clerical Workers

Paul Blasenheim ’12 is calling in a favor from that time I almost died in a BMX dirtbike race (not exaggerated in any way). Socioeconomic issues affect Wesleyan more than you might have previously thought:

You might remember that back in November, clerical staff on campus were forced by a contract with the university and rising health-care costs to take huge increases in the amount of the monthly premium that they pay for their health benefits. This came despite all kinds of concerns about the affordability of the new premium rates and the questionable fairness of the highest-paid staff at Wesleyan paying the same dollar amount as the lowest-paid staff. (See “Health Care Cost Rise Burdens Employees”)

Most clerical staff are members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, and their contract with Wesleyan expires on June 30th. They begin negotiating with the administration on May 24th, and have the possibility of recovering some of the financial losses sustained by the rise in health care costs by leveraging for other benefits and salary increases. The university also recently announced that it was considering four options for re-structuring how faculty and staff pay for health care that would begin with the next benefit enrollment in November 2011, including both a tiered option and a system based on percentage of income. Both USLAC and Local 153 advocated for such options during the enrolment period in 2010, when it became clear that the rise in costs would disproportionately impact lower-paid staff like clerical workers. The catch now is that the administration has not disclosed which, if any health care option it plans to offer in the fall.

Go on past the jump for the rest of the petition letter (and links to November coverage of the issue), or read the full body and sign it here.

Another Wes alum in the Obama administration

It hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it looks like Ron Bloom ’77 is going to be the advisor to the Obama administration on the whole auto industry failure. Apparently he used to be an investment banker, but left to work for United Steelworkers.

His intention was not to write the great American novel or retire early. Rather, he went to work in Pittsburgh for the United Steelworkers, the nation’s largest manufacturing union.

With that move, Mr. Bloom, now expected to be President Obama’s pick for senior adviser to the Treasury Department on the auto industry crisis, did not exactly surprise his friends. In college, Mr. Bloom was outspokenly pro-union, and he had an aunt who was a leader of the teachers’ union and a great uncle who had been active in the bakers’ union.

Michelle Galanter Applebaum, who got to know Mr. Bloom in the 1990s when she was a managing director at Salomon Brothers, said he was different from other investment bankers because of his unusual interest in helping workers, unions and beleaguered industries.

“He felt he could play a meaningful role of fixing it from the inside,” said Ms. Galanter Applebaum, who is now managing director of Steel Market Intelligence. “He is a passionate, committed guy, totally idealistic.”

Sounds like a pretty cool dude. Read more about him at the NYTimes.

P-Plant union, University reach agreement


The Physical Plant workers’ union, the Office and Professional Employees’ International Union (OPEIU), reached an agreement with the University early this morning.

One detail of the new contract: health insurance payments will not rise until 2010, at which point they will increase to 18.5%. University negotiators had been demanding that workers pay 33%.

Though the terms of the contract are “nothing to brag about,” according to one Physical Plant employee, they’re much better than what the University was initially offering.

As of right now, it is unknown the extent to which President Roth’s recent meeting with union representatives influenced the new contract. It seems likely, though, that the deal was brokered with Roth’s support. As was reported in Tuesday’s issue of the Argus, President Roth has said he doesn’t “like the fact that the people who have worked here for a long time are unhappy with how we’ve negotiated.” Roth met with University negotiators last Friday, and sat down with University negotiators and union representatives yesterday.

P-Plant workers had been without a contract for nearly ten months.

UPDATE: President Roth has sent out an email to the Wesleyan community announcing the approval of the contract:

I’m pleased to announce that Wesleyan’s Physical Plant employees have approved a new three-year contract through a vote of the membership today. I’d particularly like to thank union representatives and the University’s negotiating committee for their patient and diligent efforts to reach an agreement. Everyone in the Wesleyan community is a beneficiary of the good faith efforts shown by all parties to bring their discussions to a successful conclusion.

—Posted at 11:17 AM; updated at 4:20 PM.

P-Plant workers, University want Feds to mediate

Margot Finkel ’09 of USLAC writes in with depressing news about the contract negotiations between Physical Plant workers and the University:

Their situation is really serious and the negotiations aren’t going well. The fact they have been working this long without a contract and that a federal mediator had to be brought in yet again to a Wesleyan bargaining table is shameful. If Wesleyan gets what it’s asking for, Physical Plant workers will be losing thousands of dollars a year to health care costs, rather than getting the raise they deserve.

A statement prepared by the union’s business agent:

Local 153 of the Office and Professional Employees Union (OPEIU) representing Physical Plant employees, and the University have reached out for a Federal Mediator to assist in their ongoing contract negotiations.

The Union reports that in addition to wages, the parties remain far apart on a number of other issues still on the table. In addition to economic give backs the other issues include more than doubling the employee premium contribution for healthcare coverage, and implement drug testing program.

Although the contract between the parties expired on June 30, 2007, negotiations have been ongoing under an extension agreement until the parties meet again on Tuesday December 18th.

The Union’s bargaining committee believes that with what is on the table as of now it is not likely the parties will reach a settlement. However, they remain optimistic that as long as the parties keep talking, there is always the possibility of reaching a settlement. One that both parties can live with.

If you want to show your support, show up to the aforementioned contract negotiations:

Date: Tuesday, Dec. 18
Time: 10:30 (AM, I’d assume)
Location: Usdan

Labor Update

Ok, so a couple of us students have created a makeshift grapevine to keep all of those who have contacted me in recent weeks abreast in the affairs of the labor union and BA. USLAC is starting to become active although at this time I couldn’t tell you who is in charge or who you should contact. If anyone from USLAC wants to come out and lead the peoples, please leave a comment or shoot me an email at hwood@wes.

So Alan Yaspan ’08 sent me two interesting articles about Bon Appetit’s practices at other schools

From an interview with a student activist at Washington University-St. Louis

  • Once you began to research the employment practices of Washington University, what did you find out? What findings worried the group most?

    The most disturbing findings were like the fact that Bon Appetit food service workers had missed a union vote by one vote due to threats from administration and managers. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision against Bon Appetit saying that because of their unlawful union busting they had to post an apology on the wall, which they never did anyway! And the administration supported, and even helped coordinate this.

    We also learned that a Sociology student doing research on some of these income issues a few years ago was threatened with suspension if she didn’t sign documents, given to her by the chancellor, saying that she would in no way release her findings.

    And finally we learned that, of course, almost every service worker at our school was making poverty wages, much less than the prevailing wage at other schools in our area, despite the fact that we have maybe the 5th largest endowment nationwide and certainly the largest in our area. It was too much. By the time we realized that it would take .01% of our endowment to pay a living wage, we decided that it was time to move forward in a dramatic way.

    Per usual, we got sucked into school committees, commissioned to decide whether our arguments were logical and possible. And despite the fact that the admin picked every student, faculty, and administrative member of the committee, they unanimously voted to support a living wage.

    The chancellor unilaterally struck this recommendation down by November of 2004 (taking over 6 months to “consider” the committee’s recommendation), and at that point we knew the dialogue had to end and we needed to escalate in a way that made it clear the chancellor could not wait us out by hoping the agitation to end with our graduation.

    We settled on a living wage because every issue workers complained about (no healthcare, inability to form a union if so desired, having to work two or three jobs just to survive, lack of dignity, etc) would be covered under our conception of a living wage policy. It wouldn’t leave any loopholes.

And another article talks about an employee bringing up another suit with the National Labor Relations Board for what he alleged was being unlawfully fired for union activity.

Both of these articles contend that BA has a pretty ominous record so far as unions go…

Michelle Garcia f ’10 from USLAC Weighs In

Michelle Garcia ’10 is a member of the USLAC’s** dining committee and this is what she has to say:

Wesleyan claims to be a socially progressive, conscious and concerned campus, not just from an administrative point of view but in terms of student involvement. This was clearly reflected in negotiations, and Bon Appetit made a commitment to ensuring that our demands for fair employee practices are met. We’re hiring them, and therefore have the right to negotiate the terms. They’re choosing to work with Wesleyan, and we signed them with the understanding that they would maintain employee contracts as well as ensure the unionized benefits that they’ve worked so hard to establish and maintain.

We’re hiring them, and therefore have the right to negotiate the terms. They’re choosing to work with Wesleyan, and we signed them with the understanding that they would maintain employee contracts as well as ensure the unionized benefits that they’ve worked so hard to establish and maintain. Other supportive students insisted on this during negotiations not as a token gesture, but because we actually care about what happens to these people. They’re faces we see every day, Wendy, Dave, Sue

And the benefits that are being cut aren’t unjustifiable perks

We’re dealing with health care benefits, employees supporting their older parents and their children and wanting to know that the hard work they’re doing serving us is going to grant them the security they’re looking for.

Bon Appetit was fully aware of this during negotiations, presented themselves as willing to cooperate with this, and are now backing out of the deal which is completely inexcusable on several grounds — morally (which is my personal thing, and I understand that people are going to disagree with me) and contractually. They misrepresented themselves during the negotiations that got them signed.

And I think that anyone can agree that it was underhanded.

I’ve heard plenty of people talk about corporate America, turning a profit, “reasonable expectations,” but the fact remains that BA lied about what sort of food provider they really are and we have every right to be angry about that, especially when the consequences are so potentially dire.

I applaud Wesleyan for making sure that they held more contractual sway over BA’s operations. What that effectively means is that Dean Rick, and other Wes administrative representatives, are responsible for green lighting BA’s operations.

I’m not privy to the current contractual arrangement, but from what I understand Dean Rick has the final say. So it is his responsibility, as a representative of our school as well as of administrative concerns about BA, to make sure that BA holds to their end of the bargain. I’m not asking him to be Superman. I am asking him to be accountable, and part of that includes letting BA get away with misrepresentation as little as possible to ensure that workers maintain their health coverage.

No one is asking for an improvement in conditions right now. That’s for union lobbying and other negotiations to decide. Right now, we’re just asking that the hard-won benefits dining workers have gained through intense and committed struggling be maintained.

Sorry for ranting on. I’m really upset about this, and I know that USLAC is too (which is why I’m a part of it).

Got something to say? Email us at Wesleying@gmail.com.

**Previously confused with WSA dining committee.

Union’s Take on the Staffing Issue

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.

BA’s Gamble

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’s Part

“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).