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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Dining services union negotiates with Aramark over contract

Published: September 16, 2011
Section: Front Page

Dining Services workers met in Usdan Tuesday to solidify their position regarding contract negotiations with Aramark, which stagnated last week over health care, 401k benefits and wage increases.

The Union bargaining committee met with management during the summer for a routine renegotiation of the contract. Staff wanted a pay raise and management wanted to significantly reduce costs.

A considerable portion of the conflict is Aramark’s change in health coverage, which raises the co-payments and deductibles of workers. According to Dana Simon, head labor negotiator, these increases in out-of-pocket pay for the workers are so large that cost is limiting their ability to seek out medical attention. Other worker concerns include the revocation of 401k benefits.

“We only want three things. Eighty-five employees are not going to break a corporation like Aramark. They’re playing games with us. They think we’re going to be scared of them or back down, but we’re not … We’re not asking for six figures a year, just a decent raise to live on,” said Michael Cutler, a member of the Official Bargaining Committee.

Other issues include balancing shifts and work distribution—workers “struggling to get 40 hours,” said Simon, but these issues were being resolved before the halt. The meeting was not a negotiation session and no Aramark representative was present. Rather, it was a show of solidarity between the dining staff and supportive students, especially those in the Brandeis Labor Coalition who spread awareness through Facebook and lauded the efforts of the Union.

Aaron Bennos, an Aramark representative, declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations, as they are “confidential.” He did go on to say Aramark will “continue to bargain in good faith and hope to reach an agreement soon.”

Staff filtered in slowly as they got off shifts—the atmosphere was more similar to a family reunion than to a Union meeting. People laughed and smiled, asked after friends. Students were greeted familiarly and were often known by name.

Although they side with the Dining Services workers, most students were generally unaware of the particulars of the situation, as most of it had taken place during the summer, and only knew that there were issues with the contracts of the dining staff, said Brandeis Labor Coalition leader Alana Pellerito ’13. She believes things had been going well until last week.

The worker’s bargaining committee is waiting for Aramark’s answer to their demands, said Simon, “and the answer needs to be yes.” They do not believe, however, that the current stasis is an impasse.

Rather, workers welcome an invitation back to the table, and are “waiting for management to return with a reasonable offer.”

“All of a sudden, it slowed down,” confirmed Julie Richard, who has worked at Brandeis in Dining Services for 34 years and is part of the the Union’s bargaining committee. “We’re back to work now … but we need our insurance and a pay raise. We need to live, like everybody else. Maybe after today, with the people to support us, they’ll get this wrapped up.”

The staff is resolute in its position but hopeful that the situation will be resolved in the next few days. If not, the bargaining committee will be compelled, said Simon in his speech to the supporters, to “take some action,” which may or may not interrupt service. They explicitly said that they would not back down.

Robert commented that everybody on the dining staff enjoyed working at Brandeis but wanted to be ensured that they “would be treated fairly.”

Whether or not the conflicts will be resolved in the following days is uncertain, but the Union is not unwilling to negotiate and is very direct in its demands, as it was in the meeting. The negotiations have been going on for four months.