J Street workers file grievances against Aramark

J Street workers are making another push to change management practices of GW contractor Aramark by filing grievances that include harsh treatment and payment problems.

About 25 J Street employees said they will file complaints of unfair labor practices against Aramark, the company that manages GW food services, with the National Labor Relations Board as soon as this week.

“They treat us just like second-class citizens,” one employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said about J Street managers.

The employees are all members of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 25, a local union with tied the AFL-CIO.

Some employees said they have received paychecks that do not include all hours worked in the pay period, and Aramark is either slow to recover the money or does not pay them at all for the time.

Employees said they are victims of unfair reprimands and disrespect.
“They look at you just like you’re nothing,” another employee, who also wished to remain anonymous, said about Aramark managers. “They treat us terrible.”

Complaints include reprimands for missing work after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a time during which some employees said they lost loved ones or had to care for children in D.C. public daycare, which was closed following the attacks.

Some managers also allow abuse from other employees to continue without disciplinary action, employees said.

The employees, many of whom have worked at J Street for more than a decade, spoke anonymously about their complaints because they said they fear retaliation from Aramark managers. Workers said many other employees have not come forward with complaints fearing retaliation.

“The moment you exercise your rights, you’re targeted as a troublemaker,” one employee said. “They do different things to retaliate against you.”

Jim Basham, J Street food services director, declined to comment on the complaints.

Senior Food Service Director Jim Gillipsie said the employees’ claims are exaggerated.

“Everything that management does . is interpreted as retaliation,” Gillipsie said.

When a mistake occurs in the payment process, Gillipsie said, Aramark works to get workers their back wages.
If eight or more hours of work are owed, Gillipsie said, Aramark compensates the employee in cash. Otherwise, employees receive back pay in about 10 days, he said.

J Street workers filed similar complaints in December 1999 with Local 25, including two complaints filed as pay rate/job classification complaints. Workers said they did not receive pay for hours they worked, among other complaints. Seventy-five workers signed a petition sent to the D.C. Wage and Hour Board.

“Each week employees are being threatened with write-ups,” workers wrote in a letter in 1999. “We, the employees, are tired of all the foolishness and/or problems.”

Gillipsie said some current J Street employees fail to fulfill their job obligations, so management reprimands them. He said some employees take unauthorized breaks and often miss work.

“On any given day, we have more than a dozen call-offs,” Gillipsie said, referring to workers who call the same day to inform managers they will not come to work.

Gillipsie said he has not witnessed managers treating J Street workers disrespectfully, but he said workers do not always respect managers.

“It’s often the mangers at the brunt of the employees,” Gillipsie said. “They’re used to just coming in, yelling and screaming and getting what they want.”

Employees said constant tension arising from incidents between them and management has created a stressful work environment.

“They’ve put us in a hostile environment,” one employee said. “How are you going to smile when you’re being treated hostile every day?”

J Street employees said they blame Aramark managers, not GW.

“The University has always respected us,” one employee said.

Employees also said Aramark managers have violated the contract negotiated between Aramark Education Services, Inc. and their union. Managers prevent some employees from talking to union representatives, they said.

“I follow the contract to the letter,” Gillipsie said. “They’re used to going strictly with their interpretation.”

Gillipsie said employees are upset because “(managers) are enforcing the rules.”

“All I’m trying to do is running a business,” Gillipsie said. “All I want is a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.