Aramark workers rally for University support

By JUSTIN LI | April 28, 2011

A crowd of 50 Hopkins undergraduates, graduates and Aramark employees gathered outside the President’s office in Garland Hall last Friday to petition the Hopkins administration and to publicly pressure Aramark Catering to quickly negotiate a fair contract with its employees.

“We stand in solidarity with Unite Here Local 7 workers in their fights for fair and justice labor contracts in Baltimore. We now ask Hopkins to do the same by supporting Aramark food service workers’ fight for a fair contract,” Robert Day, an English doctoral candidate at Hopkins and the chief organizer of the rally, said. He read these remarks from a petition signed by 1,200 Hopkins students, staff and faculty.

In June 2010, after their contract had expired, Aramark employees were unable to negotiate with their company for a new contract. This was a result of an internal union conflict that led to Aramark not recognizing their union. After a group of students approached former Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration James McGill about the situation, McGill sent a letter to Barbara Timm-Brock, vice president of Aramark, asking Aramark to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

According to Day, the letter resulted in Aramark allowing the union to negotiate for a contract.

The crowd first gathered by the tennis courts next to AMR II. Despite the rain, many students still came to support the Aramark employees.

“The service workers here are such an integral part of being at Hopkins. They do everything for us and we don’t even realize [it],” freshman Genevieve Swilley said. “We often barely take the time to say ‘hi’ to them let alone give them the benefits they need to survive.”

Derek Demman, a political science graduate student, agreed. “Worker’s rights are an important issue and framing labor as a human’s rights issue is an important way of . . . providing a new approach for looking at it,” he said.

Senior Dan Hochman, president of the College Democrats, felt that this is a way for students to get involved in worker’s rights. “Nationally there have been a lot of fights over union representation and workers’ rights,” he said. “We’re standing up for workers’ rights locally.”

The group then walked across the Homewood campus to Garland Hall. The workers requested to speak to the President. However, the President was unavailable and workers were directed to speak with Executive Assistant to the President Jerome Schnydman.

Day began by presenting a copy of a petition signed by 1200 Hopkins students supporting the Aramark food service workers and UNITE HERE Local 7 in their contract negotiations with Aramark.

“We’ve been gathering student signatures to a petition, and also student organizations, calling for the University to pressure Aramark into settling a fair and responsible contract for the food services workers,” Day said.

Day read aloud the statement of the petition and listed the student organizations that had signed onto the statement. The organizations included the Graduate Representative Organization, College Democrats, Black Student Union, Black Graduate Student Association, Human Rights Working Group and the English Graduate Student Association.

In addition to Day, Aramark employees and several student group leaders voiced their concerns and opinions to Schnydman.

“We’re just trying to get some of the stuff back we used to have... And [Aramark is] not willing to hear it or talk about it,” Aramark employee Gladys Burrell said, listing short-term disability pay as one of the benefits they no longer have. “All we want is to be treated fairly. Times is hard now. Nobody can make without a paycheck God forbid if something happens.”

“We’ve been trying to negotiate this contract for six months. We really appreciate the students going in and helping us out. We don’t want to disturb any of their studies,” another Aramark employee said. “We want them to hurry up and get this thing done so everyone can get back to their work.”

The College Democrats want to make sure that the school is aware of this issue. “In light of one of the school’s goals, which is to become a better citizen in Baltimore — to strive to even greater heights in terms of what we can do for this city . . . College Democrats are here to make sure the school is paying attention and listening [to] this debacle [so] we can move somewhere quickly,” Hochman said.

Anthropology graduate student Bridget Kustin and representative for the Human Rights Working Group agreed. “There’s a lot of life improvement that can happen here beyond just medical advancement,” she said. “Lives of the members of the Hopkins community should be taken seriously.”

“We would really like for the University to publicly call on Aramark to settle a fair contract. We know we were able to make progress this way last year when Aramark wasn’t recognizing their union,” Day said.

Schnydman admitted to being uninformed of the situation between Aramark and its employees but said he would speak to Vice President of Human Resources Charlene Hayes, whose office encompasses such situations, to learn about the issues.

In a later phone call with Schnydman, Schnydman stated, after informing Hayes and President Daniels of the rally and the concerns of the students and Aramark employees, he would not play any further role in the University’s decisions in this situation. According to Schnydman, Daniels delegated the decision to Hayes.

“The vice president for human resources will know much more about it so she will carry the ball,” Schnydman said. “[Daniels is] kept abreast but at this stage he would not get directly involved.”

According to Hayes, Hopkins policy regarding such situations is longstanding.

“It is not appropriate for the University to take a position in support of either side in a labor negotiation between a contractor and its employees,” Hayes wrote in an e-mail to The News-Letter. “The purpose of labor negotiations is for each side to represent its own interests in discussions aimed at reaching common ground. It is not appropriate for the University to interfere in that process.”

Day declined to comment on the position reached by the University. Currently, Day has requested an appointment with Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration Daniel Ennis.

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