Dining Services workers note shift in supervisor demeanor with approaching union election
With a date set for an election to determine whether or not a union can even negotiate for Washington University’s food service workers, Bon Appetit employees have noticed changed behavior from their supervisors. Now, they claim, supervisors are playing an active and supportive role in contrast to the favoritism and lack of accessibility previously experienced. Some believe this is to discourage unionization.
The election—to be held over two days on April 18 and 19—will determine if the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) is allowed to negotiate a new contract on behalf of the workers. If the motion passes, a second election will then be held to allow the workers to approve or deny the contract the union negotiates.
In light of the continuing movement, UFCW has warned the supportive workers on campus of the possible actions that Bon Appetit may take to discourage unionization.
“Companies will come in and frankly either mislead or flat out lie to their workers about what it means to join a union,” Collin Reischman, UFCW Local 655 communications director, said. “It’s not uncommon for them to use quite a few scare tactics. It’s not uncommon for them to intimidate, for lack of a better word, some of their workers. It’s not uncommon for there to be very negative and misleading information from the company, and that can affect folks.”
Both the UFCW and Bon Appetit are working with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) through the election process, allowing the organization to facilitate the process. Additionally, Bon Appetit has hired the law firm Jackson Lewis whose website describes itself as, “dedicated to representing management exclusively in workplace law.”
Bon Appetit workers who have been primarily stationed in the Danforth University Center spoke with Student Life on the condition of anonymity for fear of their jobs. Each recounted stories of favoritism and sliding standards across campus, with the DUC having the strictest.
Each of the workers spoke on how management has reacted to the unionization movement and chose to remain anonymous for job security purposes. They described how the working conditions have suddenly improved and how management has been dispersing flyers and other informational material, including a brochure handed out Wednesday afternoon that included a Q&A on unionization. The brochure contained information biased against the impact of a union on the workplace.
Regarding favoritism, one worker noted that because only a small percentage of workers are able to work the summer months, managers tend to give preference on those openings to certain workers.
“[They] choose based on ‘I like you, I promised you something, we kick it outside the job’ because now at this point they’re telling us ‘we’re your friends,’” the worker said. “I don’t want a friend. I want a supervisor. I want you to be cordial, and say ‘Hi, how are you, how was your weekend?’ I don’t want to have to sit in the office with you and justify why I need these hours.”
Reischman noted that the prevailing reason UFCW has heard as motivation for unionization has been a lack of respect in the workplace. One of the DUC workers agreed with this sentiment, citing irresponsible managers and poor training as well.
“Number one, it’s communication. You got to be able to communicate,” the DUC worker said. “We step on this campus every single day, I don’t want to be dictated. I want to have a word, a say-so in it.”
Bon Appetit upper level management declined to comment on any matter relating to the ongoing unionization process, as is company policy.
Moving forward, the workers hope to see a change in protocol, regardless of the unionization movement outcome.
“I just hope the standard they hold us to in this building, it will apply to everybody,” one Bon Appetit worker said. “No more favoritism. That’s it.”
Additional reporting by Katie Marcus