CU food workers look to unionize
By Randy Bartley
Clarion University's food service employees staged a rally on the steps of the Eagle Commons Dining Hall last Tuesday (April 27) afternoon.
"We are here to support a union for food service workers coming into Clarion University," said Jamie Smith, a Chartwells employee at Clarion University. "We are doing this for job security, to be treated fairly and for better wages."
A university representative said that a new food service company, Aramark, will replace the current provider, Chartwells. The contract was awarded through a bidding process. Aramark has been advertising locally for food service workers at the university.
Questions about the contract and the future of the Chartwells employees have gone unanswered.
Direct calls and emails to Aramark's Philadelphia office were not responded to. Instead, those questions were forwarded to Clarion University.
Clarion University issued a statement acknowledging a change in the food service program but not addressing the future of the current employees.
A statement from Clarion University said those questions would best addressed by Aramark after the new contract goes into effect June 1.
"We have not even had our interviews," said Smith. "We don't even know if we have jobs yet."
Smith has worked at the university for 19 years.
"It hasn't been all bad but it has gotten worse over the past 10 years," she said.
Wages are a concern to the employees.
"From what I hear, we are the lowest paid food service workers in the PASSHE (Pennsylvania State System of High Education), system," said Smith. "We are paid less because we aren't union. We pay our full insurance and others, who are in the union, get a discount.
"We have no idea if we are even going to have health insurance. It is so uncertain."
Smith said Chartwells' last day on campus will be May 31.
"We are here today to help these workers win their union," said Ben Bennett, the organizing director for Pennsylvania Joint Board of Workers United. He said 95 percent of the workers have signed cards stating they want union representation.
"The workers are the union. We are their support staff," he said. "We are here today to say to Aramark to voluntarily recognize the union because there is overwhelming support from the workers."
Bennett said there are two ways to form a union, through a National Labor Relations Board election or through voluntary recognition. He said in a situation where the majority of the workers support the union the employer will often choose voluntary recognition.
Bennett said Aramark has voluntarily recognized the union at other universities in the nation and in Pennsylvania.
Bennett said Aramark operates at East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg, Lock Haven and Kutztown.
"We have good relationship with Aramark on a lot of campuses," he said. "We hope to have that here."
Bennett said the union has reached out to Aramark and asked them to respond by May 18.
"If we have to have a union election we will have it and win it," said Bennett.
There are 43 food service employees at Clarion University.