Chartwells workers fight for benefits

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Chartwells employees are in the process of forming a union to demand increased benefits, higher pay and better working conditions from the dining services company.

Chartwells is the company on campus that runs all the food services, ranging from the restaurants in the food court to the dining halls, with the exception of the Rathskeller and Subway. The company is owned by Compass USA, a corporation that owns numerous dining service companies throughout the United States.

STAND, Students For a New Democracy, began to get involved after working on a summer campaign to enable former Sbarro employees to continue working at the university after the restaurant closed to accommodate the temporary Rathskeller. STAND is an on-campus organization that works to fight social injustice in Miami.

“We spent a lot of time talking to workers at both dining halls,” said junior Dylan Beasley, a member of STAND. “Over and over again I heard the same story. First it’s, ‘Life is fine.’”

But as Beasley and other STAND members continued their relationship with Chartwells employees, STAND discovered they were anything but “fine.”

The Chartwells employees contacted the Service Employee’s International Union, known as SEIU, which is an international labor union with 2.1 million members. SEIU helped Unicco members organize in 2006.

Through the union, Unicco members were able to get increased wages.

“Almost 300 workers are involved,” said Catalina Gonzalez, the SEIU union organizer working with Chartwells employees. SEIU hopes that “the great majority contract out of the union so they have a bigger voice,” Gonzalez said.

Chartwells does provide options for employees who have issues with the management. The company provides employees with an anonymous phone line that they can use to call in concerns.

Additionally, the workers have the option to talk to human resources personnel. However, employees have not found success through these methods.

The National Labor Relations Act guarantees private sector workers the right to form a union. It also states that employers cannot question workers about possible union involvement or threaten any workers involved with a union.

This includes closed meetings, where managers meet privately with individuals thought to be involved with unions to discuss unionization.

“Chartwells is in favor of employees making an informed and educated decision whether or not to join a workers union,” a Chartwells representative said. “That decision is their right under the law and we respect that right.”

However, Chartwells workers have felt that the company has been vocal in its stance against unions.

“A lot of the workers have been reporting terrible things from the managers that are generally illegal,” Beasley said. “For example, specifically asking workers if they are trying to unionize and holding closed meetings. They are intimidating the workers.”

A Chartwells employee who wished to remain nameless described how Chartwells showed a movie about unions to its workers.  They fear that they may lose their jobs if they speak out.

“They show us the negative sides of unions,” the employee said. She said the film implied that “whatever we’re asking for, we won’t be able to get.”

With their union membership, employees hope to obtain health insurance through Chartwells. The university gives all its workers $78.66 every pay period to cover medical costs. Additionally, Chartwells does offer health insurance plans for employees to purchase.

“Chartwells offers a comprehensive health insurance plan at a substantially reduced rate for Chartwells associates at the University of Miami,” a Chartwells representative said.

Even though the plans are at reduced rates, many workers feel that these plans are too expensive.

“A lot of people don’t have it cause they’re making $8.75 an hour,” said another employee who wished to remain nameless. “You got insurance coming at you and you got kids, what you bringing home? Nothing.”

Another concern from Chartwells workers is the inequities in the pay raise system.

Chartwells conducts annual performance evaluations.

“Chartwells associates are evaluated based on measurable criteria relating to their job performance,” a Chartwells representative said. “Evaluation scores are a result of the associate’s performance and determine the potential for any increase in pay.”

Employees disagree with the system, which they feel does not take seniority into account.

“People have been there for over 10 years and don’t make $10 per hour,” said a third employee who wished to remain nameless.

Junior Javior Figueroa, a STAND member, feels that “Chartwells hasn’t reciprocated the loyalty that the workers have.”

STAND has encouraged students to get involved on behalf of the workers during the ongoing unionization process. The employees and SEIU representatives are continuing to work out specific details, and there is no set date for when the union will become official and begin talks with management.

“The students are responsible for keeping UM to high standards of employment,” Beasley said. “We should have relationships with the workers because they are part of our community.”

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13 Comments

  1. Bob, please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m clearly for the workers’ receiving better benefits. I mention seniority as important in this case because at the end of the day, it’s what should count the most and it’s also the most objective and encompassing factor in all of this. So I agree that they deserve much better than what they have now in terms of money, working conditions, rights, respect, etc. and that their work on campus is invaluable and devoted.

  2. Antoine, I disagree here. I think the bottom line here should be what pay/benefits allows for a dignified life, and that is what should be paid. This is beyond just arguing about seniority. It is inarguable in the case of UM/chartwells that these assets don’t exist. Look at this: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/15/2645861/um-kicks-off-16-billion-campaign.html#storylink=misearch …You think with all this money, UM would at least share the health care Chartwells won’t give. UM, I heard, is opening a new walk-in clinic down the street. Yeah, look at this: http://uhealthsystem.com/locations/employee-clinics . Just googled it. Aren’t Chartwells workers indirect employees of UM? Let them walk in too! On top of a dignified life, Seniority should only be adding on top of that as a thank you for years of dedication. And WHEN did we decide that being a chef or cook is low skill. I’m appalled that we think Chartwells work requires low skills. They work their ***** off. You wake up at 5am to ride public transportation across town and prep food for hundreds of students… (for some of which which claim you have low-skills)

  3. The point of a union contract is to remove all questions and opinions of whether or not someone “deserves” better benefits and/or wages. In that regard, the bottom line then objectively becomes how long an effective employee has been such… And that’s why Andy, seniority matters.

  4. Antoine, I would say that the first situation is good, and perhaps Chartwells could offer some assistance on that front – the employees have a right to unionize and bargain for such assistance.
    As for the second situation, a degree, though generally helpful, doesn’t necessarily equate to skill. It might be indicative of skill, but not the sort that Chartwells needs and therefore rewards in employees.
    The bottom line is that employment at Chartwells requires a low degree of skill and therefore will offer low rewards. The employees have a right to unionize and bargain for better wages, working conditions, etc., but the point is that they have to bargain for those – they don’t have an inherent right to increased pay and benefits.

  5. Andy, what would you then say to the Chartwells workers that currently are attending school for a better life and have to work to pay that off or already have a degree under their belt and found no other source of employment?

  6. I’m not disputing their right to unionize or the university’s ability to increase their salaries. But low wages are what you get with low-skill jobs. That’s why people attend universities – to acquire knowledge and skills that will later be reflected in their salaries.
    Minimum skill = Minimum wage

  7. If anyone deserves the right to form a union, the Chartwells employees do. I hope the university steps in and tells the company to stop intimidating workers about it. They are so friendly and helpful to us, it hurts that they don’t make enough to live better lives, have affordable health care, respect, etc, especially when that company profits so profoundly. I’s like they are profitting at the expense of their employees.

  8. Chartwell’s employees deserve a union. First, how do you afford anything working at $8.75 an hour? That might not even be enough to survive off of. Second, seniority does matter. Those who have served this university for a long time deserve pay raises. Third, Chartwell’s managers are increasingly intrusive and working conditions are tough and have been getting tougher. Fourth, Chartwell’s can basically fire anybody they want for any reason. The employees deserve some sort of protection. Fifth, the profit margins of Chartwell’s are ridiculous. You realize that we pay about $11 per meal? Chartwell’s should at least put some of that back into their employees. Because Chartwell’s cannot survive without the dedication of its’ employees. No business can. I wish their workers the best and give resounding solidarity to their efforts.

  9. Andy’s ignorance here is quite a disservice to our campus and to the overall well-being of the community that makes up our university. It is not unfair for opposing opinions to rise, nor is it abnormal. However I, along with the rest of the our foodservice workers welcome questions and challenges to better educate, investigate and empower those who feel that this situation is unacceptable. I cannot imagine how anyone that is performing averagely or below average would be able to maintain a job for 10 years. Pay raises, a dignified workplace and respect are all standard components of a healthy workplace. What we ask is that the workers who feed you, care for you and greet you every single day with a caring genuine smile, despite their difficult situation, be supported and in their LEGAL RIGHTS to unionize. It’s the LEAST you can do.

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  11. I find Andy’s attitude disturbing. Anyone who has seen the University of Miami’s profits this year, knows that they can pay everyone on their campus enough for a living wage – including affordable health care. And many of the Chartwells workers I met worked hard, sporadic hours, and had very insecure schedules. Many of the people I talked to received less than 10 dollars an hour. That is not nearly enough to support a family and survive with Miami’s high cost of living. UM should pay Chartwells more and require Chartwells to pass that on to their workers, And they shouldn’t sit back while Chartwells uses anti-union tactics – these worker’s have rights. UM is trying to push off their responsibility just like they did with UNICCO. The money they pay workers is peanuts compared to the UM larger budget. Any business can take advantage of the bad economy and the desperation many people feel, but is that really a Cane value? And I work in the health care industry – $78.66 for health care for a family? What a joke. The average family health insurance plan last year cost $15,073. (and don’t forget co-pays and drugs costs) And wasn’t it UM President Donna Shalala who claimed employers should be responsible for paying for their worker’s health care when she was Secretary of Health and Human Services? Students who pay almost $50,000 a year for an education have a right to speak up when they see things that just aren’t right on their campus. Good job to STAND for appreciating and supporting the food service workers. As a UM alumna, they make me proud. I encourage other students to have heart and get involved. And thank you to the Chartwells workers who helped make my four years at UM a dream, your smiles and hard work always brightened my day. The least UM administration can do is pay you enough for health care and food for your families.

  12. Why should seniority matter? If you’ve been doing average or sub-par work for ten years, why should you be getting pay raises?