Approximately 20 Chartwells employees at the Hecht Stanford Dining Hall walked out of work at the start of the noon lunch hour Thursday to protest their pay rates.
As employees began walking out of the dining hall, union members and UNICO workers lined the walkway cheering and chanting, “Si se puede.” They also passed out stickers with the phrase, “I support Chartwells workers,” and flyers explaining that their wages keep them below the poverty line with many employees earning on $10,000 a year.
“Workers have been trying … to win, more than anything else, better wages,” said Eric Brakken, director of 32BJ SEIU, the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union. “Workers are protesting today that [Chartwells is] not bargaining in good faith and really to make a statement that they’re ready to get out of poverty.”
According to Brakken, the strike is also a result of Chartwells not adhering to federal labor laws like bargaining in good faith. The union has asked to see documents proving that Chartwells, a sub-entity of Compass Inc., does not have the money to increase wages for its employees. The claim has been made multiple times and no evidence of it has been provided.
While the employees gathered themselves, Brakken had all of the Chartwells workers sign a paper to ensure they are legally protected from consequences.
Among those signing was Linda Bellinger, who began working for Chartwells Sept. 29, 2003.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said, expressing her discontent with the lack of any pay increases. “We deserve the truth … We are worth more.”
After leaving many bystanders shocked and stunned, the group of Chartwells workers walked from the dining hall to the intersection of Stanford Circle and Ponce De Leon Boulevard, where union members have stood behind a “Shame on the University of Miami” sign since the beginning of the summer.
Supporters in attendance included professor Linda Belgrave of the sociology department, who started a petition of support among staff members asking UM to “step up to the plate.” The petition garnered 171 signatures in five days, and the letter was delivered to President Donna E. Shalala Wednesday.
“There is no neutrality in the face of oppression. UM holds a contract with Chartwells and they gotta give Chartwells more money, so Chartwells can give the workers more money,” she said. “These are the workers who feed our students, and they can’t even feed their own children.”
According to a statement released by the university, UM reminds the Gables campus community that it is not “directly involved in this process” and “expects all employees and faculty to avoid actions that could impair the institution’s core educational mission.”
“The University is aware that Chartwells employees, who have a competitive wage and healthcare insurance package, are negotiating through their union representatives with Charwells to determine their collective bargaining agreement,” according to the statement. “The University will conduct business as usual under any scenarios related to these negotiations, and as needed if negotiations are not concluded in a timely fashion.”
While the rally continued their protest chants and songs of encouragement, the DTZ, formerly UNICCO, workers stayed behind at Hecht Stanford to continue distributing flyers and stickers to students like freshman Adam Schatz, who was confused by the strike.
“I feel like it looks bad on the part of Chartwells [National],” he said. “I don’t know that much about the past because I’m a freshman, but obviously they should be doing something if it’s escalated to this scale.”
Although the employees had a strong showing at their event, not everyone joined them in the walk out. Diamone Wright began working at the dining hall three weeks ago and is still in her probation period. While she does feels underpaid, she’s still happy that she makes more than minimum wage.
“I’m not a part of the union, so I wouldn’t feel protected,” she said.
The Chartwells workers who walked over to the Ponce intersection planned to return to work at 1 p.m. but decided to stay an additional hour. They will continue sending messages to Chartwells until a change is made.
The union has its next negotiation meeting with Chartwells on Tuesday.
The Miami Hurricane will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.