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.”