As of late, the issues surrounding the sushi employees at the new Usdan University Center have been largely regarded as a result of Bon Appétit’s policy practices. But according to Wesleyan Dining Union Representative Len Nalencz, that may not be the case. Nalencz is now accusing the Wesleyan administration, namely University Center Director Rick Culliton, of shirking responsibility in investigating the Advanced Fresh Concepts’ (AFC) sushi franchise, which has been accused of paying low wages, not providing health benefits, and even paying its employees in under-the-table cash.
Nalencz says Culliton is sending mixed messages, both taking responsibility for the welfare of the sushi employees while at the same time leaving it to Bon Appétit to investigate and work out any problems with the sushi employees. Nalencz thought that when Culliton promised fair wages and benefits for the workers in a Sept. 14 Wespeak, he was promising to get more involved in the issue.
“Wesleyan’s Code of Employment Standards for contractors—developed years ago in concert with USLAC [Union Student Labor Action Coalition] stipulates fair wages and access to benefits for the employees of any…contractor,” Culliton wrote in the Wespeak. “This code governs any subcontract agreement made by Bon Appétit with the franchise group that provides sushi. I ask for your patience as Wesleyan, Bon Appétit, and its new employees work together to develop the best approach to providing service in our new facility.”
At this point, Nalencz says, Culliton has not followed through in investigating accusations about AFC’s treatment of its workers, which if true, would prove that the Code of Employment Standards, which promises fair wages and health benefits to subcontracted workers, is not being upheld.
“All around [Culliton], people are telling him that the sushi workers do not have health benefits and are not getting a living wage,” Nalencz said. “To my knowledge, he has not verified that the Code of Conduct that he quotes is in practice. He’s mouthing empty rhetoric and not investigating. Who’s making sure the code is being enforced?”
In response, Culliton seemed to indicate that upholding the Code of Employment Standards is Bon Appétit’s issue.
“Bon Appétit is required to certify that it meets the standards of the code with its own employees and to see that its own subcontractors, such as AFC, do also,” he said. “The administration is committed to working with Bon Appétit, the dining staff, and students to continue to make improvements.”
Bon Appétit’s Resident District Manager Delmar Crim says that the code is being upheld.
“We’re not in violation of the code,” he said. “We have a signed statement from the sushi franchise saying that they’re in compliance.”
In an earlier interview through a Mandarin-translator, the sushi employees at Usdan said they were receiving benefits, normal payment through checks, and regular hours.
At the same time, Crim has previously indicated that the AFC sushi employees at Wesleyan do not receive health benefits, a seeming violation of the code.
“I don’t think they are getting benefits,” said Crim in a Sept. 10 interview. “That’s at least what Len Nalencz told me.”
Beyond Culliton and Crim, Nalencz claims that University President Michael Roth is ignoring the issues at hand.
“On Wednesday Sept. 12, President Roth came into the Usdan center around noon,” Nalencz said. “I gave him a flyer about the sushi station and he asked me if I worked there. I told him I was the union representative for the food service workers, and he curtly said ‘Thank you’ and walked away.”
While Roth had little to say about any specific issue, he did say that all workers should be treated under the guidelines of all agreed upon codes and contracts.
“I understand nobody here, students, faculty, or administration, want to work in an organization that doesn’t treat its employees fairly,” he said. “We will ensure that Bon Appétit will treat its employees fairly as is spelled out in the agreement that we have with all our contractors.”
Roth implied that Culliton’s role does not involve the same responsibilities that Nalencz demands.
“Rick’s job is not to mediate,” Roth said. “At some point they’re going to have to negotiate a contract. We don’t do that negotiation. But it is his responsibility to make sure that it runs smoothly from the University’s perspective.”
Ultimately, Nalencz, who went to Yale (which he described as a corporation), is disappointed in a university that he understood to be known for its socially responsible values.
“Would the Wes of the 1960s have hired this food service for us?” he asks. “What happened to the liberal arts principles Wesleyan is supposed to stand for?”