Sadichchha Adhikari/Staff Photographer

The University’s Bon Appétit workers will be renegotiating their current contract, which will expire on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2014. The workers, represented by the union group UNITE HERE Local 217, will be negotiating the new contract on Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014.

Workers, including the lead negotiator, were hesitant to discuss specifics about the negotiations, as they have yet to take place.

Raquel Baptiste, a cook at the Usdan University Center and steward for UNITE HERE Local 217, remains resilient in her intention to retain her current benefits.

“We’re not looking at taking any step backwards,” Baptiste said. “We have good paying jobs that help us support our families, we have good health benefits which we need [in order] to provide a quality service…and we’re not looking to take any cutbacks so we can continue to work with Bon Appétit.”

Baptiste lauded Bon Appétit’s past efforts to treat their workers fairly.

“We have to work together in order for things to work,” Baptiste said. “Bon Appétit has a good program. I love working for them because of that, and I want to continue to [work for them], but I’m not going to do that at [an] expense.”

Local 217, a branch of UNITE HERE, was first established at the University in 1983. It currently represents over one hundred food workers at University eateries including Usdan University Center, Summerfields Café, Pi Café, and Weshop.

UNITE HERE is the largest union for food service workers in the country. Its affiliate, Local 217, represents close to four thousand food workers in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Manon Lefevre ’14, who has previously worked with food service workers and students on sustainability and fairness in the food industry, commented on the importance of Local 217’s history with the University.

“The food service workers I’ve gotten to know here care about their work and about building positive relationships with Wesleyan students,” Lefevre wrote in an email to The Argus. “I think that it’s important for students to recognize the history of Local 217 here on Wesleyan’s campus, to get to know the people who make our food, and to let them know that we’re here to serve as allies if they want student help with advocating for them.”

Health care benefits will likely be a central issue in the upcoming negotiations.

“A big issue this year is health care because of rising premiums,” Baptiste said. “[We] don’t want to go backwards on [health] care received, and the company doesn’t want the premium to increase. We’re willing to fight, kick, scratch [and] bite to keep it.”

The current contract has been extended until March 11 to allow more time for negotiations. This will permit workers to maintain their current health benefits, but because of a no strike clause, it prevents them from disrupting their services.

Warren Heyman, the chief negotiator for the Union, commented on the extension of the current contract.

“The bargaining parties, the company, and the union, due to scheduling issues, were unable to negotiate before the contract expired,” Heyman said. “The parties have extended the contract to allow time for negotiations.”

Michael Strumpf, Bon Appétit’s Resident District Manager, will play a role in the negotiations, but could not comment on the agenda.

“As district manager, I sit in on the negotiations on behalf of the compass company, but I am not a lead negotiator,” Strumpf said.

Lefevre remains optimistic and supportive of the University’s food service workers as they embark on the future negotiations.

“The food service workers here have a long history of fighting for their rights and have led the way nationally in their standards of contracts,” Lefevre wrote. “I hope that this year will bring another step forward in securing fair pay, benefits, and treatment in the work place.”

Hopeful that the contract negotiations will run smoothly, Baptiste emphasized her admiration and intent to continue her work with the University.

“We are proud that we have worked so many years to maintain this contract with the help of the Wesleyan student body…and I really don’t want to lose that,” Baptiste said.

Additional reporting by contributing writer Manon Lefevre.

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