Op-ed submission: Support our Bon Appetit workers
On Thursday and Friday, dining staff workers will vote on whether or not to organize under United Food & Commercial Workers. This election marks the second unionization effort for Bon Appetit workers at Washington University in two years. The last election, while close, ultimately failed; this time, things are more visible than before and have garnered support of students who want members of their community to be able to collectively bargain for decent working conditions and fair wages. While some things have changed, Bon Appetit unfortunately chose to continue to use the tactics to suppress support during the election last year.
Similar to last year, Bon Appetit held captive audience meetings with workers in which managers would warn workers of the “dangers of joining a union.” Unfortunately, employers are not legally required to be truthful with their workers, and so these bosses use their power to create a campaign of disinformation and sow discord amongst workers who are fighting for respect, dignity and material gains. Last year at Wash. U., workers were given flyers claiming that by unionizing, they would end up with worse working conditions, lower wages and metro passes (which is often the only affordable way workers can commute to work) taken away (even though they are given by the University and are not subject to removal via union contract negotiations). This year, workers have been subjected to these captive audience meetings for weeks before United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) negotiated a policy of neutrality between the union and the employers. Unfortunately, this went into effect weeks after intimidation, and even now, Bon Appetit violates the agreement by having management snooping covertly, thus putting pressure on workers who may want to gain more (honest) information about the benefits of joining a union. The Student Worker Alliance and other students put time and effort into the unionization process both last year and this year. To see the same dishonest practices happening to the people we see everyday, some of whom are family to us, is intolerable.
These practices by Bon Appetit are completely unacceptable and disgraceful. The Student Worker Alliance condemns these practices in the harshest manner. We also condemn the fact that, even if Bon Appetit stops these practices today, it may be too late because of the election. Regardless of the results of the election, the Student Worker Alliance stands with all workers, whether they are employees, contract workers or student workers. In the upcoming weeks and months, we will follow the results with efforts to fight for a living wage for all members of our community. If successful, this will guarantee living wages for those working under Bon Appetit’s management. All workers deserve a living wage on campus, and raising the minimum amount we pay workers up to $28,000 per year at a school with a $6.5 billion endowment should be an easy choice for the administration to make and for students to stand behind. In addition, by giving wage increases to student workers, we help those students who need them the most. Currently, at Washington University, a student can work at a work-study job, make the St. Louis minimum wage of $7.65 per hour, and still be expected to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in loans. Workers, both University employees and contract workers, can live within the municipalities of North St. Louis, dealing with the conditions of economic hardships, exacerbated by structural racism.
We, not just as a faction of the University concerned with social justice but as an entire student body must reject the status quo and work on substantive items that we as students can do to help workers gain material benefits. Student Union could create and pass a resolution reaffirming that workers are part of the Washington University community, that they deserve basic levels of dignity and that they have the right to seek unionization without facing harassment from bosses. Students can email Chancellor Wrighton and Hank Webber, director of on-campus contract employers, demanding that Washington University reaffirm worker’s rights to seek unionization without facing harassment from employers and work to enforce fair election practices with the businesses we work with as a matter of policy. And finally, students can engage and stand with the Student Worker Alliance in our campaign for a living wage. It is time students pushed back against a company willing to put profits over their workers and a University all too complacent in this practice.