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November 22, 2013

Aramark workers gear up for negotiations

Currently in the middle of electing a union president, the University’s dining hall and food service workers are gearing up for contract renegotiations with their employer, food service provider Aramark, next spring.

Aramark employees, who are classified as contractors because the University does not directly pay them, are hoping for higher wages and less emphasis on seniority in benefits. They are represented by Teamsters Local 743: the Warehouse, Mail Order, Office, Technical, and Professional Employees Union.

Linda Smith, a cook and the acting union steward for Bartlett Dining Commons, believes that currently negotiated yearly wage increases for the employees are insufficient to keep up with the cost of living.

“Over the past few years, the customary increase in wages, year over year, has been 30 cents. It’s simply not enough to pay the bills. We need a better contract next year,” Smith said.

Smith’s claim of a 30-cent wage increase is verified for 2012 and 2013 by the wage table provided in the workers’ current contract.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers increased by 3.2 percent in 2011 and 2.1 percent in 2012. Assuming a $10.50-per-hour salary, which is the lowest wage paid to Aramark employees at the University according to the current contract, a 30-cent increase would represent a 2.85-percent wage increase.

Smith also argued that the workers’ wages are insufficient when compared to those of food service employees elsewhere. According to the existing contract between Aramark, the University, and Local 743, starting pay for Aramark employees working at the University ranges from $10.50 to $13.40 per hour, depending on job description.

“Maybe, once upon a time, wages used to be competitive around here. But I’ve been hearing a lot recently about how so-and-so makes a dollar more per hour in other states, given the same experience and same job,” Smith said.

One dining hall worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed similar sentiments.

“I have friends in the South who are also in food service, and who pull 16, 17 dollars an hour, starting pay. At an institution like this, the least they could do is be competitive,” the worker said.

Smith would also like to see changes to Aramark’s consideration of seniority in employee benefits. In the existing contract, the duration of an employee’s work history with Aramark is factored into processes including, but not limited to, determining wages, yearly allotment of vacation days, and funeral leave.

For example, according to Article 12 of the contract, “employees who have completed three months of employment shall, upon notification to their supervisor, be allowed three working days off upon the death of a member of the employee’s immediate family.” This allotment increases to five days after an employee has worked for 10 years.

While Smith believes that seniority is a legitimate way to determine wages, she said that she would like to see the seniority time decrease significantly.

“Ten years is a long time. Some of those clauses, which permit a significant increase in a benefit only after working for 10 years, are ridiculous,” Smith said.

Some dining hall workers also expressed a desire to be able to use University gym facilities, which they currently cannot do. While students receive free gym memberships and faculty may purchase them, contractors at the University are generally not allowed to buy them in the first place.

Another dining hall worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, used to play basketball at Ratner Athletics Center after work. While he did not have a gym membership, friends employed at Ratner would allow him in.

“Up until two years ago, me, a few other guys, and a small group of students used to go play ball at around 9 p.m. Eventually, the gym stopped letting me and the other contractors in because we didn’t have memberships,” he said. “Under the current system, we can’t even buy memberships if we want to. It would be a nice thing to do if the University let us in. Basketball is a good stress release. Exercise like that helps keep people off the streets.”

Jennifer Coleman, assistant athletic director at Ratner, confirmed the worker’s claim that contractors at the University, including Aramark employees, are not eligible to purchase gym memberships, citing space concerns.

“We are currently operating at full capacity, and it is difficult to allow in significantly more members while maintaining the quality of the facilities and programs that exist,” she said.

However, she also noted that a few contractors, employed by Facilities Services, had purchased memberships despite the policy.

“For a lot of contractors, using the gym facilities here may not make sense, as they don’t live close by. But over the past several years, there have been roughly 10 long-term contractors, Facilities [Services] contractors, who saw a lot of benefit in being able to use the gym. They asked if they could buy memberships, and they were able to,” Coleman said.

Coleman also suggested that the policy could be subject to review if dining hall employees, Local 743, or the public asked for such action.

“We are rarely asked for the option [to purchase gym memberships] by contractors, their unions, or their employers. If people asked, we would definitely stop and reconsider,” Coleman said.

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