Bon Appetit workers to unionize, hope to hold elections by semester’s end
In response to reports regarding disrespect within employee interactions, approximately 250 Bon Appetit workers filed to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board Wednesday morning.
Union Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 (UFCW)—a group that advocates for workers’ rights—and on-campus groups including the Student Worker Alliance (SWA) and Social Justice Center (SJC) assisted the workers in the petition process.
Workers have complained of differing workplace standards across the Danforth Campus, as well as instances of preferential treatment.
UFCW Local 655 Communications Director Collin Reischman noted that pay was not the primary factor in the decision.
“The idea of not being respected on the job is the most universal complaint we get when we organize folks,” Reischman said. “Some folks like their pay, some people don’t, but not being respected by your boss seems to be a problem that almost every American worker runs into at some point.”
This attempt isn’t the first time Bon Appetit workers have tried to unionize. Previously, outside organizations have tried to mobilize workers but failed to acquire the 30 percent of worker signatures needed to file.
SWA representative and senior Chelsea Birchmier said that she didn’t know why this attempt was successful but theorized that student involvement might have played a role.
“It was a joint thing with [The Association of Black Students (ABS)] and SWA,” Birchmier said. “Someone from the AFL-CIO [The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations] Union got in contact with them, and she gave them these little union cards and she asked us to pass those out to food service workers and see if they’d be interested in joining a union.”
A Bon Appetit worker who has been stationed at various locales on the Danforth Campus spoke to the workplace environment, staying anonymous out of concern for potential job repercussions.
“I had a couple run-ins with my executive chef and it was about not being able to work, you know, just belittling, degrading stuff man where it wasn’t professional, it wasn’t appropriate to have on the job…You know, you don’t really want to go to work with a negative attitude; you want to come to work to work and make money,” the Bon Appetit worker said.
Speaking to the claims of varying work conditions across campus, the worker noted that some locations, such as the Danforth University Center, have stricter performance codes than others, such as the South 40.
Filing for unionization is just the first step in a longer process that the UFCW hopes to complete by the end of the semester. Reischman said he hoped the workers could have an election before the summer break, when many of the workers would be let go. Currently, a neutrality agreement has been proposed by the UFCW and is pending approval.
“What we don’t want is where the union and the company are just throwing bombs at each other, and the workers feel all of this pressure so they’re caught in the middle,” Reischman said. “It’s not good for an election and it’s not a good work environment; frankly, we created this to be a neutral thing.”
Senior and SWA member Danielle Blocker said that, moving forward into the unionization process and contract negotiations, students can get involved by offering their support to Bon Appetit workers.
“Dining Services workers could use a lot of support from students, just having students let dining services know that we support them and we stand behind them in this process,” Blocker said. “And also so that the administration knows we care about Dining Services workers and we’re watching to make sure that they’re treated fairly throughout this entire process. And they’re valued for…that they’re valued, period.”
Dining Services could not be reached for comment.
Additional reporting by Megan Magray.