Union Contract Deadline Looms
Bon Appétit workers are still in the midst of negotiating a new contract before their old contract expires on Feb. 28. Three meetings have already taken place; the fourth will be held on Feb. 17, as union members try to hammer out an agreement before their current contract expires.
“We always remain hopeful that everything will go well so we can get back to our jobs and do what’s right for the students,” said Sue Silvestro, President of UNITE HERE—Local 217.
Local 217, which was established at the University 29 years ago, represents and currently consists of about 100 workers at Pi Café, Weshop, the Usdan University Center, and Summerfields Café.
UNITE HERE represents food service workers across Connecticut and parts of Rhode Island. Local 217 are negotiating the new contract with the Bon Appétit Management Company, which is a subsidiary of the London-based Compass Group corporation.
Silvestro, who has worked at the University for nearly 24 years, is part of the negotiation team, and she says she hopes that the new contract will continue providing health insurance to workers.
“One of our big priorities is maintaining our health insurance,” she said. “Some people may be wanting small raises but health insurance is of the utmost importance right now.”
Bon Appétit Resident District Manager Michael Strumpf will also play an important role in these discussions, though he declined to comment on the negotiations because they are ongoing.
“I will be present at all bargaining sessions to provide an operational perspective on all issues,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Argus.
If negotiations continue past the Feb. 28 expiration date, Silvestro says they will ask for an extension of the contract.
“We are negotiating in good faith and I would expect them to offer the extension if we can’t come to an agreement by then,” she said. “It’s been done many times before. There is always a contingency plan if they don’t offer the extension, but we would hope to not have to use it.”
As the union president, Silvestro says she encourages active participation of other workers in the union and the negotiations.
“Everyone has their own voices, and that’s what we try to pay attention to,” she said. “It’s a democratic society and we try very hard to have the input of all workers.”
The University has a policy of not discussing union negotiations between Bon Appétit and Local 217 workers.
“It is our longstanding policy not to comment regarding ongoing union negotiations that are either occurring directly with Wesleyan University or with its business associates, partners, or contractors,” wrote David Pesci, Director of Media Relations in an e-mail to The Argus.
But according to Silvestro, the University does have some sway in the matter and can put pressure on Compass that can affect the outcome of the new contract.
“Wesleyan can certainly apply pressure as far as their bottom line, so they really don’t take a hands-off approach,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of students realize that.”
Ultimately Silvestro said that the workers hope Bon Appétit will maintain their current working conditions and health insurance, and that they will prioritize employee benefits.
“We feel the company is making money, and it’s our hope that they won’t put profit before workers’ lives,” she said. “We all still have to pay our mortgages, and car payments and electricity, and everything else that comes along in life, so we can’t afford to go backwards.”