Bernard George and Victor Chacon, both food service coordinators for Chartwells, arrived at University of Miami at 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 27 expecting to start another typical day at work.
To their surprise, both were sent home, and notified at 3:30 p.m. that they were fired.
George and Chacon both worked 84.5 hours the week before classes began, preparing for parent visits, back-to-school faculty parties and the start of the semester. The Friday of the first week of school, Aug. 24, both employees were absent from work due to personal reasons: Chacon fell ill and George’s wife, who has diabetes, was sick and needed medical attention immediately.
Chartwells’ policy says that employees must call the Chartwells hotline when they are going to miss work and to also call a second time when they plan to return.
George and Chacon both said they called the hotline Friday morning and Chacon, who had worked for Chartwells for seven years and ran the faculty lounge, also remembered to call the hotline to notify Chartwells when he would be returning.
George, who has worked for Chartwells since last March, forgot to call the second time, but feels that he should have been given a warning, instead of treated with zero tolerance.
“I feel like we were made an example of to the rest of the workers before Labor Day Weekend,” George said. “I’m not knocking [Chartwells’] policy, and I do think it’s important to call beforehand, I just think we should have been treated more fairly.”
Both men said that the decision to fire them came from Leland Rapport, resident district manager of Chartwells. Rapport, who declined to comment on individual personnel issues, noted that workers have options when fired.
“We have grievance procedures in place and instructions are posted in our employee handbook,” Rapport said. “There are different steps associates can take should they disagree with any progressive disciplinary action.”
Mel Tenen, assistant vice president of Auxiliary Services, said that the university does not get involved with the matters of Chartwells employees because they work for Chartwells, not UM.
“Chartwells has 350 employees on staff and we have a contract so that they can fire and hire under their own policies,” Tenen said.
Rapport also said that workers are very rarely fired. So the question is: why fire a dedicated employee for obeying the rules, and another employee for forgetting a phone call?
Chacon, who said he followed the procedures exactly, is worried about finding another job.
“I’m in my 50s and now I have to start all over again,” Chacon said. “Yesterday I made a few phone calls, but I still don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Karyn Meshbane may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.