Students who were faced with the possibility of food services at the University of Miami closing can rest easy. This is because Chartwells employees are also resting easier.
Chartwells workers organized to hold a strike that would have paralyzed the dining halls at the residential colleges and the food court at the UC during the week of final exams. Students rushed to social media to express their support or opposition.
The workers, however, were able to reach a unionization compromise with Chartwells. They will not hold a strike, and the dining halls and food court will remain open.
On Tuesday, Chartwells, the university’s food services provider, offered its workers a card check, a method for employees to call for the organization of a labor union.
The card check requires a majority of employees to sign cards that demonstrate their desire to be represented by the union. Cards have already been signed, and they will be counted on May 3. If a majority has been reached, negotiations will begin.
“What it means in the end is Chartwells is willing to recognize the union,” said Phillip Schwind, a graduate student and member of Students Towards a New Democracy (STAND).
This announcement comes after word spread through social media that Chartwells workers were planning a strike. On STAND’s “Bring Betty Back” Facebook page, a poster warned that “within the next days, Chartwells workers at UM will be going on strike.” The photo has since been removed from Facebook.
In response to the unionization effort, UM Media Relations confirmed that the dining halls will remain open.
“The University assures the campus community that residential college dining halls and our food court operations will continue as scheduled through the remainder of the semester,” according to a statement that Media Relations issued.
Management also posted signs outside of Mahoney-Pearson and Hecht-Stanford Dining Halls that said, “Please be assured that our dining halls will remain open with normal business hours.”
The Chartwells company also expressed its commitment to serving students.
“Chartwells has an obligation to provide uninterrupted dining services for the campus and ensure that the safety of our associates and guests is our No. 1 priority,” said Kristine Andrews, communications director for Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services.
The road to unionization
Prior to Chartwells’ decision to hold a card check, the company filed for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election on Wednesday, according to Simon Evnine, an associate professor of philosophy who circulated a petition among faculty members in support of the workers.
Schwind noted that employers favored this tactic and are against union formation because this method is more advantageous to them.
During an NLRB election, there is a 30-day wait period until the election. In that time, according to Schwind, employers can pressure and intimidate the employees not to vote in favor of a union.
Chartwells’ request for an NLRB election failed to pass on Friday, according to Evnine.
He believes the request failed because of outstanding allegations of unfair labor practices against Chartwells. The current agreement reached between Chartwells and its employees means that the strike should not occur, and food services will remain operational.
Evnine said he was pleased with the result.
“It’s exactly the outcome we wanted,” he said. “We’re very happy to have gotten there without a strike and without more anguish for the university community as a whole.”
On Monday, the Facebook poster about the possible strike drew dozens of comments from students and sparked widespread concern amongst residents who rely on the dining hall as a reliable and convenient meal option.
Some students, like sophomore Jordyn Cohen, felt that a strike was an unnecessary course of action.
“These workers agreed to their terms of contract and should not be complaining,” she said. “That’s like enrolling at Harvard and then complaining you have too much work.”
Other students said through Facebook that the timing of the strike was poorly planned because it would have coincided with final exams. But STAND member Javier Figueroa, said this was not intentional.
“It wasn’t planned like, ‘Oh, let’s do this in finals.’ It just came to this,” he said. “At this point for workers, it’s the end of the year, they’re tired, they’re sick, getting tired of Chartwells just moving this along, so they said, ‘We’re going to take a stand, and we’re going to go on strike unless Chartwells gives into our demands.’”
Cohen had a different view.
“It is absurd that a student group would create false advertising of a potential strike when one is never going to occur,” she said. “This group of students standing for democracy have not realized that what Chartwells is doing is entirely legal and acceptable.”
Evnine and Schwind, however, have said that Chartwells has been suspected of taking illegal actions.
“There is a history of intimidation with Chartwells,” Schwind said. “They wore buttons in support of unionization, and their supervisors told them to take them off. They have, reportedly, gone to see who is not working when the workers have gone to protest and have taken note.”