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17 October 2012

Chartwells employee’s dismissal leads to petition

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Betty Asbury stands with nearly 30 students who feel her dismissal from Chartwells was unwarranted. “Wow, this is a lot of people,” she said. “I got a big heart.” Photo illustration by Monica Herndon // Assistant Photo Editor

Sitting in the library of St. Bede’s Episcopal Chapel on campus on Tuesday evening, Betty Asbury, known to many as “Miss Betty,” started to cry.

“Lord, I done lost my job,” she said. “What am I to do? I done lost everything.”

Asbury was dismissed on Oct. 10, the day after a man walked past her cashier post in the Hecht/Stanford Dining Hall without paying. She believes the man, who was not a student, works at the BankUnited Center.

Chartwells, the national company in charge of most food service at the University of Miami, employed Asbury – a single mother with 15 years of cashier experience in Miami – two years ago.

Asbury said she didn’t see the man walk past her because she was ringing up the customer who walked in with him. When her manager and supervisor called Asbury into the office the next day, she told them it was a mistake.

“I said, ‘You know, I apologize. It was a human mistake and I overlooked someone who went through without paying. I really love my job, and I want to keep my job – write me up and I’ll make sure it won’t happen again,’” she said.

Entry for breakfast would have cost the man $6.80.

According to Asbury, she was never written up in the past, and she received the highest evaluation in the Hecht/Stanford Dining Hall last year. In August, her pay increased to $9.58 an hour to reflect her good performance.

However, it still takes two paychecks for Asbury to pay her mortgage, and she lives alone.

“Just last week, another worker told me that the University of Miami is a beautiful place and it should be treated as such by all the employers and employees,” senior Dylan Beasley said. “Miss Betty was one of the reasons why this campus was beautiful, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of students can attest to that.”

For several days, Asbury tried to contact Leland Rapport, the resident district manager of Chartwells, to appeal her dismissal.

According to Asbury, Rapport returned her calls on Tuesday and told her he learned that the man who walked past her had gone straight to the bathroom – but that they couldn’t reverse the decision.

“It’s a voice I don’t have,” Asbury said. “None of us Chartwells employees have a voice. If it happened to me, it can happen to somebody else.”

At-will employees

After declining several opportunities to comment on its decision, Chartwells released a statement. Among the questions asked and left unanswered: Why is this is an offense that warrants dismissal?

“Due to privacy concerns and confidentiality laws, we are not at liberty to discuss or comment upon specific associates or issues surrounding their employment,” the statement read. “Employment decisions are based on established policies and procedures, and applicable state and federal employment laws.”

Chartwells employees are at-will employees, which means the company can break the employment contract without liability.

Kenneth Casebeer, a professor at the UM School of Law, said Chartwells can legally dismiss employees for “good reason, bad reason or no reason at all.”

“It’s a very pro-employer rule that Florida has reiterated again and again, and for the reason that it promotes certainty of business costs,” said Casebeer, who has a background in employment law. “Of course, if an employer can walk away from an employment contract at any time, then they don’t have any costs associated with getting rid of employees or having to plan for any kind of due process.”

Giving employees a voice

Some believe that the decision was unjust, regardless of its legality.

“It’s legal, but it’s not moral,” said Philipp Schwind, a fifth-year graduate student of philosophy. “It’s not what we stand up for.”

Schwind started a petition on change.org at 1 a.m. after he learned of Asbury’s dismissal. By 2 p.m. the next day, it had nearly 500 signatures.

“The message goes to Chartwells, and the message is clear: We don’t accept that members of our community are treated this way,” Schwind said.

As of 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, there were 1,438 signatures and 55 personal statements.

Schwind believes the petition will make a difference.

“This is not just about Betty,” he said. “It’s about us – who we are and what kind of community we want to live in.”

Students for a New Democracy (STAND) members and other students are planning events during the next three weeks to push for Asbury’s reinstatement. Up-to-date information can be found on the Facebook group “Bring Betty Back.”

“We hope to make an example out of Miss Betty’s situation and what can be done – the power that students do have in their university, the power that workers can have, and that they should have,” said senior Carmen Rodriguez, a STAND member.

Precedent has been set

Students have gone up in arms about the firing of a Chartwells employee in the past.

In 2007, for instance, two workers were dismissed for missing work without calling the Chartwells hotline. Alan Fish, UM’s vice president for business services at the time, said the university should not have a zero-tolerance policy. The two workers were allowed to return to work in accordance with the three-warning plan that was established.

Later, in 2011, Chartwells dismissed Sbarros workers when the campus location closed, but gave no guarantee that positions would be available the next fall. After STAND collected 135 petitions, the employees were reinstated for the semester.

“There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be possible for Chartwells to bring Betty back,” Schwind said. “It has been done various times in the past. And why should she be treated differently?”

Rapport declined to comment after six emails and phone calls.

Senior Javier Figueroa, a STAND member, believes this incident represents a larger problem.

“This is symptomatic of a greater issue the workers face here, which is that management doesn’t pay attention to their voice,” he said. “It goes beyond Miss Betty losing her job; it goes beyond every single Chartwells worker having no job security and having to face that every single day.”

The Chartwells statement also addressed its policy about how the company treats its employees.

“While Chartwells is not at liberty to discuss the subject situation, Chartwells remains steadfast that it has and will continue to treat all associates fairly,” the statement read.

Chartwells workers have tried to form a union in the past, though one does not currently exist.

“I really appreciate y’all standing behind me and helping me – going out the way – and I know it’s love in here, and all about ‘round here,” Asbury said, a hand on her chest. “I lost my job – I lost love and family here on campus. I lost a family.”

10 thoughts on “Chartwells employee’s dismissal leads to petition

  1. I sure would like to get with the kids who are leading this mission ,its something i have been fighting this fight for years how employers in florida are allowed to hire and fire at will ,these employers get to treat employers like crap ,employers live in fear everyday .I have written to Rick Scott ,Perry Thurson ,Alec Hastings ,the Usa Attorney general office everyone is giving me the same story its the law ,Eeoc says the same thing .I am in the process of the same situation being fired wrongfully .I just got the right to sue from the eeoc but its not about suing its about get this law change so it does not continue to happen .So i will love to connect with some of the kids fighting this fight together we can bring change

  2. I have repeatedly seen this employee let in several individuals into the dining hall for free on SEVERAL different occasions. For her to say this person walked by her is BS. She has let this person in for free before and many others. If you’re going to back a cause make sure you know the facts and don’t just listen to the sob story of an individual who could not perform her duties.

  3. Bonnie: You’re ignorant. She didn’t let a patron into the dining hall for free. Someone walked in, past her, TO GO TO THE BATHROOM, which management later realized and admitted.

    Victoria: You seem to be placing the blame on the university, when the fact of the matter is that she was an employee of Chartwells, not the University of Miami. UM promptly took action today, when SG President Alawa met with VP Whitely and called Chartwells corporate, who has now said they will be visiting to investigate.

  4. I am a student at the University of Miami.

    The business behind the University of Miami is ruthless. In a society that is dominated by greed and institutional power the University of Miami has forgot its purpose, education. During Betty’s past two years she has served at Miami she has never made a mistake, in fact she was appraised and her salary was raised. Perhaps this is the reason she was fired. From here on out I will refer to the University of Miami as a business seeing as though this is the role they intend to play. Businesses are encouraged to fire workers and bring in new workers to decrease the amount they pay their employees. Betty has over 15 years of cashier experience, clearly she is fit for the job and merely made a small mistake, a mistake that cost the school $6.80. This is ridiculous, the University of Miami is a multi-million air school yet it does not have any protection rights for their workers. In fact, they are voiceless. It is up to the students and faculty to acknowledge this issue and address it.

  5. Is this a freakin PLANTATION? This sounds like a scene from the movie “THE HELP” Someone deserves a slice of Minnie’s pie for being so mean spirited. This sorry, low paying job is the source for her bills! Florida is a mean-spirited state for workers.

  6. Hi Bonnie,

    Where are you gettng your information from? Do you REALLY think Ms. Betty would risk her job for a mere $6.80. She has never been written up, can you really say that she did this? And even if she had, do you really think that management would allow this to happen more than once (since you’re also insinuating it’s not her first time) without saying anything?

    What details are you talking about? The managers have admitted they were wrong. Why isn’t Chartwells commenting or giving any statements?

    Lastly, Betty never admitted a “wrong doing” she simply did not see the man who walked by (who by the way went to the bathroom and did not eat) and she said she would never let that happen again that she’d be more attentive in the future.

    Where are YOU getting your information from? I’m quite curious.

  7. I think that Miss Betty should be asked to bring her written statement that she wrote herself the day she was terminated where she admitted her wrong doing. I believe there are important details that she is now neglecting to share with the public.I think Betty is changing her story now that she realizes all that she lost. She should have considered all that when she allowed a fellow UM worker into the facility without paying. Do you really believe it was a mistake? Her first time? Betty states “Oh Lord, I done lost my job.”
    Better she should remember “Thou shalt not steal”. Stealing brings bad Karma. It doesn’t matter the amount. Is that what we as a society (community) are willing to accept? It’s okay to steal as long as it is not alot? Stealing is stealing.

    make sure you get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from Miss Betty.

  8. Tomorrow, Friday, in LC 170 at 5:30p.m., Ms. Betty wants to meet with all those who support her, to share her story in person and for us to do some work to get her back. There will be free t-shirts and buttons for Ms. Betty as well.

  9. I applaud the efforts of the Miami students, and I am really hoping Betty gets her job back. In the very short term, however, she could probably use a little financial help to get by. Is there an address for people who want to send her a check? If everyone who signed the petition gave just a dollar ot two, it would help. I am sure she is living paycheck to paycheck, and while this issue s resolved, t would help if she didn’t have to worry about paying her bills.

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