Union negotiating with Aramark demands respect

Aramark employees working in the Marvin Center are in the process of negotiating a new contract with the food provider. Muriel Patterson, a production supervisor in J Street who represents 100 food service workers at GW in negotiations, said Aramark rejected all four of the union’s main proposals during the first round of negotiations in late September.

The Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 25, the union that represents Aramark-employed workers, will participate in the next round of negotiations that will start up again on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, said John Boardman, the union’s executive secretary.

The union’s contract with Aramark was set to expire Sept. 30, but at the request of a federal mediator, the union has extended the contract to Nov. 10 to facilitate the meetings in late October.

Boardman said that although the negotiations got off to “a rocky start,” they are “back on track.”

In October 2002, unionized J Street workers, citing poor wages, health care and accident care benefits, voted to go on strike. The strike was averted when workers voted to approve a three-year contract with Aramark after the company ultimately responded to most of the workers’ demands for higher wages, better health care benefits and more efficient grievance procedures.

Patterson, who has worked at GW for 27 years, said her tenure should “count for something, but apparently not.” She said an Aramark representative told her the union’s proposals were rejected because Aramark is not making any money – an argument she doesn’t buy.

“I don’t believe you are not making any money … why would a corporation enter a 10-year contract with the University if it’s not making any money? It makes no sense,” Patterson said.

Kristine Grow, a spokeswoman for Aramark, declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations but said no final decisions have been made yet. She said Aramark is dedicated to working on an agreement for everyone involved.

“All of the issues we’re looking at are still very much on the table,” Grow said. “We’ve exchanged proposals with them, but at this point we have not had any meaningful negotiations with them.”

Among Patterson and the union’s requests is an increase in life insurance benefits. Currently, employees get life insurance valued at $10,000, and the union wants to raise that sum by an additional $10,000 next year and another $10,000 the year after that.

Patterson went on to say that workers receive benefits, called S&A benefits, if they are hurt off the job and can’t come to work for an extended time. Workers currently receive those benefits for 13 weeks at $200 per week. She hopes to see that sum raised to $300 next year, and $400 the year after that.

Aramark employees receive four days of sick leave per year, Patterson said, but she is negotiating for discretionary leave, which would allow workers to receive paid leave for any reason, such as visiting a doctor or picking children up at school. She is hoping employees who work 40 hours per week will receive four hours of discretionary leave per year.

She is also negotiating for more sick days per year for workers. Workers receive four to seven days per year, and the union wants that total raised to six to 12 days, because “even with the flu, you might be out two weeks.”

“We’re caught between a rock and a hard place with wages and benefits,” Patterson said.

Patterson explained that because the whole package the union is requesting will cost Aramark money, workers are not asking for an increase in their wages.

“(We’ll) try to continue and see if they’re willing to change on some issues,” Patterson said.

Boardman also said a major part of the negotiations includes “language issues,” such as noting that employees are “partners” and “equals.” He declined to elaborate on the details of the negotiations.

“Workers constantly want to be acknowledged for their part of the production process that makes things happen,” Boardman said.

“Those things don’t cost money,” Boardman said. “They are very important from the standpoint of how people were treated.”

Grow said, “We are dedicated to treating both workers with dignity and respect.”

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