The Bon Appétit Management Company is a business founded on sustainable values, but still lacks the ability to respond to its employees’ requests. Last month, the contract with Whittier College’s workers union expired, and the company has yet to respond to make meetings for the next set of negotiations. The food service workers are asking the students on campus to stand in solidarity with them while they wait for a meeting date.
Bon Appetit “believes in the environment as far as the food bought and prepared. We try to buy everything locally as much as possible and make things in house,” said Mayra Macias, a food service worker mainly employed in the Spot. It’s important to note, that the employees are not employed by the school, but by Bon Appetit, and thus far we have yet to hear of the school faculty’s involvement in this renegotiation effort. Neither Bon Appetit or the College have expressed concern for Whittier’s food service workers, regardless of previously stated values.
The Los Angeles based labor rights organization, UNITE HERE Local 11, became affiliated with the College when a cashier attempted to organize and succeeded in 2015. Luis Martinez, a chef in the cafeteria, described Local 11 as, ”the union that represents thousands of workers in LA in … industries [in order] to have better working conditions, and help to have better living wages and respect (which is the most important). I believe that any person should work with dignity and respect.” Martinez brought up the unnamed employee and their experiences, saying, ”in the first contract six to seven years ago, she helped guide other employees through what the union was and what they do for the workers. I have worked with unions before, and I believe that they try to make the companies understand how to treat workers with respect.”
The employees have expressed feeling vulnerable to Bon Appetit without an existing contract. In the previous negotiations there were no discussions over COVID-19 benefits or protections, and the workers are now requesting it. Local 11 is asking for re-negotiations on healthcare and their 401k plans. They are hoping to fix the understaffing problem, poor working conditions, and to get a pay raise. This location pays 16-17 dollars per hour, when other campus cafeteria workers are paid 20-22 per hour. The problem that the employees are facing now is a multi-campus issue with Bon Appetit’s refusal to set up meeting negotiation dates. Martinez states, ”I believe the company likes to take the extra time in order to create division between employees, [which is] something that benefits [only] the company. The more division made between employees, the longer it takes to get our contract and benefits.” Arlo Tinsman-Kongshaug, a Whittier College student involved in this effort, states,”this has been a growing problem across people that work for Bon Appetit. There are other college locations such as the five Claremont colleges and La Verne that sent out delegations and none of them have been hearing back from Bon Appetit.”
It is uncertain at the moment where the delay in meeting arrangements will take the union in terms of rallying, but they are requesting that students support by getting involved when the opportunity arises. The instagram page @_cswa, highlights the Student and Worker Alliance events within the Claremont Colleges and surrounding areas. Tinsman-Kongshaug explains, “[o]ur goal right now is to get more students aware of what’s going on with the [Campus Inn] workers and get involved in whatever ways they can, especially in the near future. Depending on how negotiations are going to make the strikes … students can show out and support. Eventually people from both colleges will come to rallies all across these campuses, so at the 5C’s, at Laverne, at Whittier, people would be going between these campuses to show solidarity with each other.”
In the upcoming weeks we may see rallies, or a meeting, depending on the cooperation of the Bon Appetit Management Company. In the meantime, students can get involved by keeping an eye on the Claremont Student and Worker Alliance instagram page, or asking for updates from the workers themselves.
Featured image: Aimee Huerta / Quaker Campus