In the wake of a two-year-long unionization effort and a series of broad dining changes this summer, workers atO’Donovan Hall are dissatisfied with their relationship to their employer, ARAMARK Higher Education.
Employees say that ARAMARK has changed shifts and reassigned duties within the dining hall in order to minimize the number of workers to whom it must pay full-time salaries and benefits. At the same time, the number of students served at Leo’s has increased this year.
Georgetown first contracted ARAMARK in 2007, and the contract was renewed in 2012 for another five-year period, according to Margie Bryant, associate vice president for auxiliary services. In addition to Leo’s, ARAMARK provides food services for Grab ’n’ Go, Wolfington Hall, Cosi, Starbucks and the Pre-Clinical Science Building’s Dr. Mug.
Last September, workers at these locations joined a local chapter of UNITE HERE, a national labor union that includes workers in the hotel, airport, food service, laundry and gaming industries. Once unionized, Georgetown dining employees worked to secure an improved contract with ARAMARK, winning them higher wages and expanded health care coverage. The contract was signed in February.
“Our employees at Georgetown are represented by a local union who negotiated a collective bargaining agreement on their behalf,” ARAMARK Director of Communications Karen Cutler said. “We have a good working relationship with the union and adhere to the terms and conditions of that collective bargaining agreement.”
But five months after the contract was signed, Leo’s workers say they are unhappy with the treatment they have received from ARAMARK.
“A lot of us have been here for a long time, and they don’t ask us our opinions on anything. They just change it,” said a female employee who has worked at the dining hall for 19 years, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We know what the students like. … We talk to the students. Why not talk to us? … They didn’t do that. They just changed it, wiped it out.”
Shift changes enacted over the summer as part of the restructuring of services in the dining hall have also been unpopular among employees, forcing some of them to rearrange their family and work schedules.
“A lot of people have second jobs, and they already had their days set. Now, people have to adjust their lives and tell the second job that they can’t work this day or have to come in later,” the female employee said. “And we thought that was messed up, because it wasn’t broken, so why did [ARAMARK] try to fix it?”
A male employee who has worked at Leo’s for 15 years, also speaking anonymously, said that many of the changes instituted this semester — including the elimination of the wrap and make-your-own-pizza stations as well as the removal of options at the pasta and stir-fry stations — were designed to minimize the number of workers needed to run the cafeteria at any given time.
“[ARAMARK] said they got a 74 percent increase of students on meal plans, and that’s why they needed more people on weekends and evening shifts. But the thing is, there are less people on weekends and on the evening shifts,” he said.
Cutler said that Leo’s is not understaffed.
“All locations are fully staffed to ensure quality service,” she wrote in an email.
The male employee, however, said he gets off his shift late because Leo’s is shorthanded.
“This year was the only year that I know, in recent memory, where we didn’t see new employees come in,” he said. “They still have the same amount of people they had last year. They just have more work to do.”
According to Bryant, the changes in food selection and service were a result of student surveys conducted in the spring of 2012, and the “We Hear You” campaign was created to communicate the alterations.
But the employee said that students are unhappy because they did not ask for the first set of changes.
“The thing is [that] they can’t really tell you why they took it. The stuff that they added, they said, was for the students. … [But] the students, the ones we talked to, said they never asked for this,” he said. “That’s why you don’t see a lot of students happy with the changes.”
When the dining committee — a group composed of students, university administrators and ARAMARK representatives — received further feedback, a second campaign, “We Hear You 2.0,” reinstituted some options, including the taco bar, a renewed variety of vegetables at the pasta station and a weekends-only make-your-own-pizza station.
However, according to the male employee, the changes at Leo’s have had a negative overall impact on the dining experience.
“Now, three weeks into the school year, it is worse,” he said.
The female employee said that changes to Grab ’n’ Go have placed a greater burden on workers at those facilities.
“They have less food, so it’s less work for the stocking person. He doesn’t have a whole lot to do like he had before, so that means they can pull him to do something else,” she said. “Then it’s like one person on two or three jobs. They are being tricky about it.”
The male employee said that ARAMARK is taking advantage of its workers.
“People just don’t see any way out. In this day, the economy is real bad, so it’s not like we can say we are going to leave and go to something better. … The company knows this, so they’ve backed people into a corner,” he said.
Members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, which helped workers form their union last year, say that these changes take a toll on both employees and students.
“There are two components to [the changes], one being that students are affected by this. We have fewer options, fewer healthy options,” GSC member Erin Riordan (COL ’15) said. “There is also the worker’s side to it, where by cutting certain stations, they end up cutting certain positions and giving people fewer hours and things like that.”
According to Bryant, Leo’s workers’ contract with ARAMARK provides them with a mechanism for addressing concerns.
“The union has a formal grievance procedure for resolving all issues between ARAMARK management and workers. When a grievance procedure cannot produce a satisfactory outcome, an arbitrator is used to settle the disagreement,” she wrote in an email. “To date, all issues have been settled through the grievance procedure, with no need for an arbitrator.”
The union negotiation that occurred last year also included a collective bargaining agreement between ARAMARK and Georgetown employees to facilitate the communication of grievances.
“While ARAMARK is contractually required to comply with the just employment policies of Georgetown University, it is responsible for its own labor relations with its employees and any trade union represented among its employees,” Bryant wrote in an email. “The collective bargaining agreement between ARAMARK and its employees provides structure and framework for the operation and interaction of workers and management.”
Despite the agreement, workers still feel challenged.
“We have to fight them on everything,” the female employee said. “I guess … since we signed our contract, that they just wanted to show everybody that they still have power, with the work shifts and the shifting of the days.”
According to Riordan, there is an alignment between students’ and workers’ interests on these issues.
“One thing that stood out to us was that the complaints from workers and students were very similar, and it was generally about the amount of food that was being offered and how it was being offered,” she said.
ARAMARK, which earned over $13 billion in revenue in 2011 and is ranked as the United States’ 204th largest company on CNN’s Fortune 500 list, has a mixed record on workers’ rights issues. In April 2010, the company signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers that raised wages for tomato pickers by more than 70 percent, but ARAMARK has also come under fire from some of its customers in the education community.
In 2008, Yale University chose not to renew its contract with the company in the wake of concerns about budgeting and the treatment of workers. Yale Daily News reported in 2001 that ARAMARK posted a $3 million budget deficit during its first year of operation at the school while increasing costs to the university and students. Bob Pronto, the president of the local union that represented Yale dining workers, told YDN that the company also frequently shuffled employees between Yale dining halls and changed managers, similarly to the conditions Leo’s employees described.
“It seemed as though they were more worried about achieving a bottom line as it related to their profit,” Pronto told YDN in 2008. “[ARAMARK] tried at different turns to undermine the quality of food. They cut very close the quantity of food that they ordered and caused us to have certain shortages.”
Georgetown’s contract with ARAMARK runs until 2017, but GSC members say that students have a role to play in lobbying the company for better treatment of workers.
“We want to bring these issues to campus attention,” GSC member Julia Hubbell (COL ’15) said.