Bon Appetit employees vote in favor of union representation
More than six in 10 food service workers at Bon Appetit voted in favor of union representation Friday, according to the official vote tally from the National Labor Relations Board.
In a 173 to 109 vote, employees of Bon Appetit, Washington University’s dining services partner, voted to be represented by Union Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 655. The organization is now empowered to bargain on behalf of Bon Appetit workers to establish a new workplace contract.
“UFCW Local 655 represents workers in retail food and non-food, manufacturing, packing houses, distribution centers, laboratories, and hair care,” according to its website. Since 1932, the organization has represented the interests of the eastern half of Missouri and has over 10,000 members.
In a statement, UFCW Local 655 president David Cook expressed his excitement for the unionization election results.
“We are thrilled that hundreds of workers providing food to the students and faculty of Washington University in St. Louis have elected to come together to get the better life they deserve. These individuals provide a vital service to Washington University and have clearly spoken that they want the better wages and working conditions that a union contract will afford them,” the statement read.
While declining to comment on specific issues related to unionization, Hank Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration, noted that Bon Appetit workers have the right to unionize and emphasized that the University will continue its partnership with Bon Appetit in the future.
“Certainly, it is within the right of Bon Appetit’s employees eligible to vote in the recent election to decide whether or not representation by a union is in their best interest. We respect their decision. At various times, we have learned about concerns among the Bon Appetit staff and have encouraged conversation with their management to address those issues,” Webber said. “Under our contractual relationship with Bon Appetit, we will continue to [support them] regardless of whether or not Bon Appetit employees are represented by a union.”
Bon Appetit workers have attempted to unionize several times in the past, with their most recent effort last March failing to gain the necessary votes.
In an op-ed Thursday, Student Worker Alliance (SWA) representatives said that Bon Appetit managers intimidated employees to discourage support for unionization, adding that workers were “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.”
Representatives from Bon Appetit were unavailable for comment.
Collin Reischman, UFCW Local 655 communications director, noted the organization’s continued engagement with workers in ensuring continued engagement with workers to educate them on the benefits of unionizing.
“The law requires that if you have a union election somewhere, and it’s unsuccessful, you have to wait at least one year before you can have another election,” Reischman said. “After the last unsuccessful attempt, we sat back a little bit and the company last time ran a very anti-union campaign, ran a lot of negative stuff about us. And then, [for] the workers there, democracy kicked in. They made their choice to give their company a chance; their company promised to change some things. Because ultimately, workers never want to unionize if their workplace is great and they’re getting everything they want.”
Senior and SWA representative Christian Ralph noted the role of student activism in supporting unionization efforts of multiple campus employees, including Bon Appetit workers.
“I think it’s definitely a significant step forward and again for people who have seen this happen last year—the failure—it’s very encouraging. Just looking at the landscape of the campus, almost all of the workers on campus right now are unionized. To have these workers now unionized is a big step for University life being able to collectively bargain for better working conditions and better wages,” Ralph said.
According to Reischman, the union will negotiate a contract through a bargaining committee led by UFCW Local 655’s director of collective bargaining. The committee will likely include some Bon Appetit workers.
Although the timeline for these negotiations is currently unclear, once a contract is negotiated, it will then be presented to the union members, who will vote on whether or not to approve it.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the workers. This is the one thing I always say about unions, a lot of people don’t realize, is they’re very much a democratic process,” Reischman said.
Paul Schimmele, Danforth Campus dining services manager, declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Olivia Szymanski and Danielle Drake-Flam.