Chartwells employees protest university’s push to hire students, lay off current staff

Chartwells employees spoke to the media Tuesday about the university’s decision to increase student workers, while laying off current employees. Photo Credit: Anisa Jibrell

Aaron BerkowitzGeneral Assignment Reporter

A group of Southern food-service workers marched with picket signs down to the President Papazian’s office chanting, “Phase in,” in hopes of persuading the university from deciding on a food service contract that could leave 35 of them without jobs and health benefits.  The new contract would aim to increase the percentage of student workers on campus from 5 percent to 20 percent by the upcoming school year.

Connie Holt, representative of Local 217 of Unite Here, said she has met three times with university administration and suggested they “phase in” the amount of student workers the university employs rather than increase the total by 15 percent so abruptly. She said she understands the extra hours would help student workers, but the new terms of the contract would do more harm than good.

“Don’t take jobs from single-mothers, single-fathers, and people who are just trying to support their families with these jobs,” said Holt. “We don’t have to sacrifice these people’s lives. We can have the increase in student labor, without anyone having to lose their jobs.”

Holt said the union has already tried to compromise with administration in their several meetings.

“We made a proposal to administration to have an increase in student workers to about 15 percent in the first year,” said Holt.

Dr. Tracy Tyree, Vice President for Student Affairs, said the university’s contract with Chartwells ends June 30th of this year. Administration is in the middle of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process for the food service at Southern. She said the university has narrowed their bidders down to three: Chartwells, Aramark, and Sodexo.

Tyree said the university will reach a decision on the next food service provider within the next month and the student’s best interest is at the center of their decision. She also said she’s noticed that on other college campuses the dining service is one of the main sources of student jobs, but on Southern’s campus its one of the smallest sources. Tyree said the university is looking to change that.

“Students who work on campus are more successful than students who work off campus,” said Tyree. “If you work on campus people are more likely to be flexible and responsive to when you need to adjust your schedule, need to study, or to the stress of academic life.”

She said the university currently has one of the highest costing meal plans in New England and it’s stopping some from being able to live on campus.

“The only way to change this is to take away this ‘anytime dining’ because its just to expensive. That alone will create changes,” said Tyree. “There are a lot of things that will influence this contract and make it different than the one that is expiring.”

Food service workers voiced their concerns during their march through Southern’s campus.

Nicholas McDonald, a food service worker at Southern, said he has worked with Chartwells for 12 years, at SCSU for 20 years, and doesn’t think the disposing of 30 plus food service workers is the only answer to Southern’s venture to increase total student worker hours.

Rachid Ennaji has been working with Chartwells for 3 ½ years and said he relies on the benefits he receives to help pay for medical expenses for his mother who is sick.

Tyree said the concerns of the food service workers are not being overlooked, but the final verdict on their jobs futures wont be made by the university’s administration.

“The collective bargaining agreement is the labor relation agreement between Chartwells currently and Local 217. That is what sets out the parameters for their employment. The university is not privy to that because that is not an agreement we are a part of,” said Tyree. “What I understand them (Chartwells) to have said is if nothing else changed and we went to 20 percent student labor then the 30 or 35 employees would change, but that’s not what is going to happen anyways.”

She said the possible opening of a cyber café in the student center, a change in the catering program, or the opening of another venue inside the newly renovated library all act as “levers” to how the employees will be distributed in the new food service contract.

“They are protesting the possibility of a decision,” said Tyree. “Nothing has been decided yet, but I believe there are other pieces of this contract that could have employment impact. One way or the other, job opportunities could be increase or they could decrease. Certainly changing the structure of our meal plan will have implications, but I don’t know what those implications are because we don’t run the food service. Each entity will handle it differently. It’s premature to know what the impact of the contract will be because we don’t know who the provider will be or what the specific terms of that contract will be either.”

Aaron Berkowitz and Julie Mar Ortiz interview Chartwells employee, Nicholas McDonald Tuesday.


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