Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Compass, the parent company of Chartwells: modern-day Jim Crow segregation

Here is the text of the United Students Against Sweatshops petition to Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami, which you can SIGN HERE. It details shocking racism, practiced and tolerated by the company.
At the University of Miami, campus workers are facing fierce intimidation for exercising their right to join a union. Just days after agreeing to respect workers’ right to choose a union through a majority signup process, Chartwells, a food service corporation owned by Compass Group, launched a vicious anti-union campaign, holding mandatory captive audience meetings every few hours and telling workers that they “just want them to know the whole story.” 
But what really is the whole story behind Compass Group? Just ask Compass employees at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia where, in a demonstration of modern-day Jim Crow segregation, Compass only allowed its white employees to serve guests during private catering functions, forcing employees of color to work in the kitchen. White supervisors would take prolonged lunches while sitting at the only table designated for the Company’s employees. Since the Company also prohibited the African-American employees from leaving the premises during lunch breaks, they were forced to eat lunch in the Company’s locker room. 
Use the form on the left to send President Donna Shalala a message: Chartwells workers deserve the right to join a union without fear and intimidation. 
Despite workers’ repeated complaints about racial discrimination at the Comcast Center, Compass failed to take any remedial action. In fact, many workers have been demoted, stripped of their job duties, unfairly disciplined, and fired for speaking up. At the University of Miami, a majority of the workers are people of color, and they’re well aware of Chartwells’ history. Would you trust a company with this track record to give U Miami workers accurate information about their right to join a union? 
Chartwells officials have told U Miami workers that the “union doesn’t believe in democracy,” and to “call the police” if a union organizer comes to the door. But if Chartwells really believed in democracy, why would they force U Miami employees to attend anti-union captive audience meetings as a condition of employment? 
A company like Compass cannot be trusted to give workers a fair process. Tell U Miami President Donna Shalala to step in and demand that Chartwells immediately put an end to all captive audience meetings with workers.
Sign petition

Today's attempts to monitor Chartwells union-busting "captive audience" meetings

Yestserday, we brought you the adventures of intrepid faculty who attempted to monitor the "captive audience" meetings that Chartwells is imposing on the food service workers at the University of Miami to stop them from joining a union. These faculty had the police called on them twice, though they were doing nothing at all wrong or disruptive.

Today faculty showed up promptly at 9am for the first "captive audience" meeting of the day, at University Center, only to find no meeting there. We later learned that Chartwells had moved the meetings (and changed the times) in response to our actions yesterday. Today they were meeting at the Bank United Center on campus, the very place where graduation will occur in 10 days or so.

Once again police were called, though while we were there, they did not show up. We encountered workers leaving from the meeting and told them we were professors at the university and that we supported the union.

Although we could not hear what was said at the meetings, the script was probably the same as the one we published yesterday.

Petition from USAS to UM President Donna Shalala: Stop captive audience meetings on campus

Please SIGN THIS PETITION, organized by the United Students Against Sweatshops, to University of Miami's president Donna Shalala. There have been captive audience meetings in the heart of campus, and faculty have been harassed by police (some of us were given trespass warnings in the Student Center) when they have tried to monitor these meetings.

Police check faculty IDs at the Student Center at UM

Having "investigated" allegations that faculty were intimidating workers, the police depart


UM and the Union

UM and the Union, besties at last!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Live tweeting Chartwells dirty tricks: Monday 4/29

Note: The names of vulnerable individuals and of police and Chartwells management have been withheld. 

8:59 am   UC 245 is occupied by 3 faculty members and 4 workers. The room has been booked all day.

9:11 am  From Daniel Messinger: "Police outside not letting us in."

9:50 am  From Daniel Messinger: "A gentleman in a suit asked us leave room 245. We had arrived before anyone else. [Chartwells] set up with orange juice and water, and called UM police. Officers ___ and ____ arrived and asked us to leave. We chatted in the hallway. I was able to hear some of what the speaker said through the door. The most interesting thing I heard was “and if you did not sign a card and the Union wins, you do not have to pay dues.”

10:08 am  Campus police issues several faculty members a verbal trespass warning; says to faculty that the next time it will be a written trespass warning and the time after that it will be jail.

From Daniel Messinger: "Chartwells was in and out a fair amount messing with AV stuff. I think the format was Chartwells talked. Mostly someone who identified as management. Mr. ____ is I think the main Chartwells rep. The officers left with a verbal assurance that we would not re-enter the room. Mr. ____ left the room. Someone had their camera out. Mr. ____ called UM security indicating that we were taking pictures of people as they left the room. No one except for Mr. ____ had left the room. We left so as not to give any false impressions. The first meeting has adjourned, I believe. My guess is 15 or so people were in the room, maybe 1/3 management, maybe more."

12:27 pm  From Simon Evnine: "Merike Bloomfield, Mari Williams, Frank Palmeri, Jennifer Hill, and I went up to the door of UC245. On the way, we encountered John Murphy, Daniel Messinger, and _____, who had been there at 9. Daniel and John had been given a trespass warning and told they would be arrested next time (not clear why or what for). ______ took a pic of the Chartwells manager who immediately called the police about it. ______ left (not wanting to be arrested). When Frank, Merike, etc and I were outside 245, there were various workers arriving and several management types. At some point, the door opened and Jennifer... immediately inserted herself and started introducing herself, asking for people's names, writing everything down; I asked if we could attend the meeting. We were told no. At some point, management types stopped even responding to questions like "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name". They were rather rude. The workers went in; the door was closed, and after a bit of chatter, the meeting began."

From Simon Evnine: "When we were initially gathering, we saw a management person call; obviously they were calling the police. After about 20 mins, three police showed up. They said they had got a call saying we were intimidating workers. We talked with them a bit (Do we look intimidating? Who called you? Shouldn't you go into the meeting and ask the people in there? If you say you don't know who called, how do you know who's in that meeting?). They insisted on taking everyone's name, checked that we were faculty (they wanted ID) and eventually just left. They didn't warn us, and they didn't object to our taking photos (both of which had occurred with Daniel, John, and _____). After that, it was all quiet until the meeting ended; we cheerily and unintimidatingly wished the workers (and anyone else) a good day."

"Jennifer says that the content of the meeting was all pretty standard stuff; no guarantee you'll be better off with a union; they are outsiders - we all know each other; you don't need to sign a card; you can withdraw your card. _____ says they harped on the possibility of getting workers to withdraw their cards."

With the police's and Chartwells' acknowledgment, faculty sit outside the meeting to make sure there won't be "violations of human rights."

1:50 pm  According to a member of the Law faculty, Chartwells' barring of tenured faculty from a meeting that takes place on campus property is problematic -- unless Chartwells has an agreement with the University that gives Chartwells the contractual right to hold a private meeting with the company workers. But then in this case we can hardly continue to consider the University as holding a neutral position.

Simon Evnine contacted the President directly on behalf of the concerned faculty about her strong assurance that she would guarantee a fair process. That the employer, Chartwells, is allowed to hold mandatory meetings during work hours may well fall within the letter of the agreement it drew up with SEIU, but it is certainly not fair (see our previous post on Chartwells' considerable advantages with respect to the union when it comes to reaching and talking to employees).

President Shalala replied by saying that 1. there is already an arbitrator and 2. the matter should be sorted out between Chartwells and the union.

This does not address the unfairness of mandatory meetings held by management during work hours, when the workers don't have the liberty not to attend. Those meetings may not be intimidating on the surface (certainly Chartwells has a large enough legal team to be advised on how not to break the law), but one can easily imagine how an already embattled employee might perceive them. Which is -- let us not forget -- precisely the reason why they are held. 

2:26 pm  Frank Palmeri's and Jennifer Hill's report [edited: for full report contact us using the contact form]: 

"April 29, 2013
Outside 245 University Center, 11 am

When Faculty observers entered the room shortly after 11:00, they were asked to leave by a woman who said her name was ____ and said the meeting was a Compass/Chartwell’s meeting. She said no faculty could stay in the room and declined to answer any questions about her role, the meeting’s purpose, or why faculty could not observe. By about 11:10, the meeting was beginning, with about 4 workers present and 2-3 representatives of Chartwell’s management. Two other workers arrived later.  Another woman was present, but she refused to provide her name or affiliation. 

The management representative opened the meeting by asking people where they worked and how their weekends had been. The notes below represent a summary of the statements, as accurately as could be determined from outside the room and with interruptions.

Management Rep: There are a group of people who have been trying to come in to the meeting. We unfortunately had to call the police. They are listening to what we are saying now.

______ : Anything that is said might be heard through the door.

Management Rep: I am glad to be here. I was here last fall with _____ (unclear).

This is not a mandatory meeting. You can leave if you want. If you leave, please leave quietly.

For the last couple years, the union has been trying to organize you. They’ve made an attempt to have you sign up. They’ve been giving you documents. They have asked you to get involved. A lot of people were concerned and felt as if they were being harassed by union. They have come to your homes, your work. . .

We took the position of saying let’s go the legal, proper route. We decided to take the legal route. We went to the National Labor Relations Board and asked them to give you an opportunity to vote - a vote on unionization for each and every one of you. This is the legal process – the correct way to do it.

The NLRB allows you to vote even if you’ve signed an authorization card. Even if you signed a card, you can vote. Unfortunately, when we asked them for that vote, the union filed a charge blocking that. Because the union filed a complaint, you won’t have that right to vote, unfortunately.  We felt we had to agree to what is called a card check…
What is a card check? The card check is when the union tries to get you to sign a card for unionization and then a neutral person comes in to verify the cards. There will be an observer from outside who will be presented the cards. The card check will be this Friday. The union will present all the cards they can convince the employees to sign. This neutral observer will be presented with some documents from us with your signatures. We want to make sure there is no tampering. If 50% plus one of those cards is for the union, then the union will be recognized, and you will be represented by the union. There will be no vote on Friday.

At about 11:15, three UM Security officers, Sgt. ______ and Officers ____ and ____, arrived to say that they were investigating a called-in complaint that there was intimidation of workers occurring outside Room 245. They checked Faculty IDs, but declined to say who had made the call. The Faculty observers stated that they were there to ensure there were no human rights violations. When asked what constituted intimidation, Officer _____ said perhaps blocking people from going in to the room. The officers were assured all workers who arrived for the meeting had gone inside. When asked again what would constitute intimidation, Officer _____ said perhaps making threats. It was suggested that the officers go into the meeting to ask whether employees were hearing threats inside room 245. After about 5-8 minutes, the officers left, apparently having completed their investigation and having observed no evidence of harassment.

Chartwell’s Management: A lot of people are confused.

On Friday, a Chartwell’s official will let you know what happens. You can come to [did not hear where], and by 2:30 or 3:30 we’ll know the outcome.

…Please keep in mind that the only thing that is guaranteed if there is a union is that they have the right to negotiate with us.. Don’t believe anything where they make promises. Now we’re going to play a video about what signing the card means and what people do to get them to sign cards. It has some role-playing and the acting is pretty bad.

Video:  Pro-union character: Legally, we only need 30% plus one to sign. But our union wants 50% or 70%.

Skeptical narrator:  But once people find out about what the union really means, the truth is they don’t want it—living with its rules, having to pay dues, fines, and assessments . . .

Pro-union character: But the union gives you access to a lot of resources . . . You’ll be stewards . . . This is a war we’re involved in . . . Here’s what we need to do - sign up your friends. Just ask your friends to sign; they’ll do it as a favor to you. . . . Isolate them one-by-one and then tag-team them. Here’s how it works.

Character against unionizing: For crying out loud, I’m at home. I told you I’m not going to sign your card . . . All right, I’ll sign your card just to get you to go away, but this doesn’t mean I’m in favor of the union. I just want you people off my back.

Skeptical voice: The organizer will most likely go to the company with the signed cards and demand recognition if a majority sign authorization cards. This is a standard authorization card [describes fields on cards]. What you are signing over…is the right to speak for you. If the majority of the workers sign the cards, then the union speaks for all of you, even those who didn’t sign. You’re giving the union the right to speak about your working conditions. There’s no guarantee that things will get better. . .

Pro-union character: I can’t emphasize enough that this is a war – us against them. Section 7 of the NLRA says you have the right to organize – the government protects your right to join a union.

Skeptical narrator: The same Act protects your right not to join a union . . .

Pro-union character: Find out what your fellow workers are saying…Everybody’s got something to gripe about. . . .Draw that out, then say the union can solve it.

Voice of a worker: I’m so concerned about _____; she needs so much medication . . .”

Skeptical voice: Everyone’s got a problem. You’re told the union is the solution. . . . There are two reasons employees turn to unions: some have a problem . . . and there are those employees who don’t have a lot of problems but want to make it a better place to work. But unions can’t make supervisors into Mr. Nice Guy, can’t get him fired, can’t really change things.

When the union says the employees are the union,… don’t believe them. They will tell you that you are all their sisters and brothers. But the union officials have the power according to the union constitutions. And if the union organizer doesn’t volunteer this information, he wants the in-house pushers to do the same thing – wants the in-house pushers to say “we all of us are the union and by working together we’ll be able to make this a better place.”

…If the employees don’t really have problems, the union manufactures them. There’s no perfect company. But can the union solve problems or make changes? No way. All the union wins if it wins the election is the right to bargain – no guarantees. If someone asks you to sign a card, remember that the union cannot guarantee you will get a contract or that you will get more than you have now. There is no guarantee you won’t lose wages and benfits. The truth is you can lose salary and conditions in bargaining after a union comes in.

The union card says, ‘I hereby authorize my employer to deduct so much per month for monthly dues. . . .’ That is called dues checkoff. When you get right down it, that is why the union is here. They need your card, and they need it bad.

After the video, the management representative asked for questions. There were no questions. The meeting broke up at about 11:45. The management representative encouraged individuals to stay behind to talk individually.

Jennifer Hill taking her absolutely awesome notes. Thank you Jennifer and Frank for your notes!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Captive audience" meetings and union busting

We have learnt that, in the run up to the actual card check on May 3rd, Chartwells at the University of Miami will be requiring its employees to attend not one, but TWO "captive audience" meetings. Given the tone of the letter that they have already sent to their employees, it is not hard to imagine what these meetings will be like!

This is further evidence of union busting.

"Our Time"

Friday, April 26, 2013

Chartwells intimidates its workers as they try to unionize

This letter was sent by Chartwells to all its "associates" at the University of Miami:


As we stated in our April 17, 2013 letter to you, Chartwells asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to allow each of our associates to vote if they wanted the Union, SEIU, Local 32BJ or not. We respect your right to choose for yourself! The Union challenged this request and because they challenged it, you will NOT  have an opportunity to vote if you do not want the Union to represent you or if you do want the union to represent you.  
Because they took your legal right to choose and vote away, there will be a Card Check on Friday, May 3, 2013.  
  • The Union and those who want the Union may visit your home or contact you at work within the week and try to convince you to sign a paper and put your personal information on that paper.  
  • What is that paper? -- That paper is called Union Authorization Card. If you sign that card, then you are saying that you want to be in the Union. If you do not sign the card, then you are saying you DO NOT want the Union. 
  • If the Union gets the majority of those cards signed by our associates, then that is all they need to win. If they win, then you will be forced to be represented by the union. 
Please make sure that you make an informed decision and if you DO NOT want to be in the Union, then you Do Not need to sign any document or authorization card.

Dear readers of Picketline, there is a well-worn name for what Chartwells is doing with this letter, and that name is "union busting." Chartwells is not disclosing to the workers that the NLRB threw out Chartwells' request for an election (as we have pointed out many times, for instance here, NLRB elections are not to the workers' advantage, but rather to the advantage of the employer) because the union pointed out to the NLRB that Chartwells was guily of several unfair, union-busting labor practices, such as intimidating workers and forbidding them from wearing pro-union buttons -- a practice protected by the First Amendment.

While Chartwells says that "they took your legal right to choose and vote away," what it is omitting is that an NLRB election would have taken years, during which years Chartwells would have had all the opportunities in the world to harass the workers, fire them, and of course subject them to false and intimidating letters just like this one. In fact, card check is precisely a "legal right to choose and vote," used all the time, and recognized by the NLRB itself.

During the days leading up to the card count and on the day itself, both the union and Chartwells will have access to the workers. This means that Chartwells, again, lies when implying that only the union will try to contact workers. Just think: these workers live all over Miami: is it easier for our fearsome union organizers to drive all over town and catch them when they are not on shift, or for Chartwells to indoctrinate them while they are all conveniently congregated in its facilities?

The union has absolutely no interest in collecting personal information about the workers. Chartwells, for which these workers have worked for many years, probably has more information than anyone else but the workers themselves.

Being forced to be represented by a union means only being forced to accept higher wages and better benefits. Florida is a right to work state. This means that all workers who don't vote for the union won't even need to pay union dues, but will still get the higher wages and benefits that the union bargains for.  


Thursday, April 25, 2013

It ain't over till it's over

It turns out that the card check agreement between Chartwells and the SEIU, unlike that between the SEIU and UNICCO in 2006, did not contain a neutrality provision in which both sides agree not to attempt to influence the choice of the workers in deciding whether to have a union. In the light of this, the news that Chartwells is planning to require the members of its workforce to meet with management officials starting next Monday (April 29th) is worrying.

We intend to remain vigilant.

Article in the Miami Hurricane

Here is an article in the Miami Hurricane, the student newspaper of the University of Miami, by Sam Abbassi and Lyssa Goldberg, published after the agreement between SEIU and Chartwells to count the cards was reached. But see the post above, "It ain't over till it's over" for some worrying developments.)

Press in the Miami Times

Here is an article, by D. Kevin McNeir, published in the Miami Times before an agreement was reached between SEIU and Chartwells to use card check to see if the workers want to unionize.

Food service workers say $10,000 salary not enough to survive 
Wearing buttons that said, “We Are Worth More,” and holding iconic civil rights placards saying “I am a Man,” food service workers at the University of Miami [UM] recently led a protest against Chartwells Dining Service — the company that is in charge of most food services at the University. They were joined by a contingency of religious leaders from South Florida, UM students and faculty, and members of the Florida District of the Service Employees International Union [SEIU], that are advocating unionization of the workers. 
The workers contend that their wages are so low that they often struggle to make ends meet and that they are unable to afford health care benefits offered by Chartwells.
During the protest that took place on the anniversary of Dr. M.L. King’s assassination [April 4th], the workers, whose numbers were estimated at several hundred, gathered at the intersection of Stanford Drive and U.S. 1. Fliers were distributed with the salaries of several top UM administrators and employees, including: Al Golden [head football coach]; Jim Larranaga [head basketball coach]; Pascal Goldschmidt [dean of the Medical School]; and Donna E. Shalala [UM president] to illustrate the inequity in pay at the University. All four earned more than $1M each in 2010. 
Following the rally, which featured speeches from the Rev. Richard P. Dunn, the Rev. Gaston Smith, the Rev. Gregory Thompson and The Rev. Marie Garthner, a petition with the signature of more than 50 concerned clergy from South Florida was delivered to Shalala calling for change and asking for her assistance in what some describe as “poverty wages.” 
According to Eric Brakken, regional director, 32BJ SEIU [the largest property service union in the U.S.], Shalala has yet to respond. 
“We have been involved with UM’s workers for almost two years and have been reaching out to a broader portion of the community — like the Black clergy that have recently joined our efforts,” Brakken said. “The Faculty Senate recently passed a resolution supported by over 200 faculty members calling on the University to increase the wages of food service workers on campus and to make sure there is a fast and fair process for workers to resolve their desired status to form a union. Chartwells has not agreed to recognize a workers union and while the faculty has spoken to the President on our behalf, we have been denied access to her.” 
Black women facing the worst of times 
Brakken adds that many of the food service workers are currently signing petitions that may result in a strike. [The school term will end in several weeks]. He points out that in 2006, when the University’s janitorial staff [90 percent Hispanic] faced similar working conditions, they went on a hunger strike, shut down U.S. 1 and eventually chose to form a union. He’s not sure how things will play out this time around. 
“This fight is reminiscent of the issues that workers faced in 2006 except this time we have mostly Black women that are employed that can barely pay their bills,” he said.
While Chartwells would not release the number of employed food service workers, Brakken estimates that there are approximately 275 workers; 80 percent are Black and 60 percent are women. Workers were reluctant to speak on the record but two finally agreed to share their views. 
“I’m upset about the low pay we receive that keeps us in poverty, not having a voice at the workplace and working in fear of losing my job,” said Betty Asbury, a Black woman in her mid-50s. She has been employed by Chartwells for two years and works on the salad bar. 
“UM can tell Chartwells to do the same that they told Unicco to do for the janitors — count the [signed] union cards to see that we have a majority and start bargaining with us for improvements.” 
Nicole Berry, 35, has worked on the grill for the past three years. She too is concerned about the future. 
“$10,000 per year is not enough to live on in Miami,” she said. “Chartwells don’t respect us or acknowledge our hard work. UM can hold Chartwells accountable — they did it when the janitors faced the same kind of hardship. Maybe if we get a union, we can have better wages and a better future for our families.” 
Response from the “U” and Chartwells 
The Miami Times sent a list of questions to Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services [partnered with UM since 1994], addressing issues that included: charges of employee harassment; whether they felt there was a problem at UM; whether they had been in communication with workers and/or UM’s administration; and how much workers were paid. 
Here is a summary of their response from their representative, Kristine Andrews, Compass USA [the parent firm of Chartwells]: “Financial terms regarding contracts with our partners, associate wages and personnel information, including personal financial situations, are considered confidential. Chartwells has an obligation to provide uninterrupted dining services for the campus and ensure that the safety of our associates and guests is our number one priority.” 
A list of questions was also sent to the University of Miami addressing issues that included: whether UM administration had attempted to persuade Chartwells to negotiate with food service workers; why UM had allegedly intervened in 2006 with disgruntled janitors but has not done so in this case; whether UM was concerned with the significant number of women of color who as employees and the sole source of income for their families say their pay is less than adequate; and whether UM was concerned about a potential strike. 
Here is a summary of their statement from Elizabeth Amore, executive director of media relations: “We understand that SEIU has been, over the past months, seeking to organize Chartwells operations, particularly at UM . . . Accordingly, the University is not taking a position other than to strongly request of both sides to abide by the rules, which, most importantly includes no harassment or intimidation of workers so that they may make a decision in an atmosphere free from coercion or pressure.” 
Unfinished business 
The Rev. Rhonda Thomas, a community organizer and employee of SEIU, has been working with local clergy for the past several months. She says she doesn’t understand why UM”s administration won’t at least meet with the community’s religious leaders.
“Our recent activities mirror what Dr. King was doing when he was assassinated — advocating for better treatment of workers,” she said. “Shalala spoke with the Miami Herald but she won’t speak to Black clergy. Why won’t she speak to our community? We take this personally. The workers we represent live in Coconut Grove, in Overtown and in Liberty City. It seems like they’re being ignored.” 
Thompson, one of the speakers at the April 4th rally and the pastor of New Harvest Baptist Church, is asking South Florida clergy and members of the community to come together on Friday, May 10th [the date of commencement exercises at UM] at 5 p.m. for a march and rally in support of the food service workers. They plan to meet at the intersection of Stanford Drive and U.S. 1. Thompson, president of the AACCC [African American Council of Christian Clergy], can be reached at 305-681-3500. 
By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


A few minutes ago, the following email was sent out by Giovanna Pompele to signatories of our petition and other sympathizers:

yesterday Chartwells let the union know they were willing to do card check. soon after, president shalala sent this email to the students of STAND and to the Hurricane:  
UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI STATEMENT ON UNIONIZING EFFORTS The University is aware of a possible work stoppage as part of a unionizing effort. Today, we have learned that Chartwells offered the union a card check, and the University is hopeful this will resolve the issues. The University assures the campus community that residential college dining halls and our food court operations will continue as scheduled through the remainder of the semester. The University values its faculty and staff, as well as employees of its contractors, including Chartwells. 
about 10 mins ago we received the following announcement from SEIU's eric brakken: "Just got the signed agreement!  Card count will happen on May 3rd." 
this is stunning and fabulous news and i'm going to let it speak for itself. i have a million questions. doubtless you have to. we'll certainly get answers.  
in the meantime let's rejoice in the knowledge that this is what the Chartwells employees wanted, the most expeditious and fair way to form a union, and that they will have a union in less than 10 days! it's a remarkably peaceful and fast victory and i for one am delighted that it was achieved without a strike.  
THANK YOU THANK THANK YOU for all you did. this is one of those cases in which every drop of solidarity counted. thank you to the academic senate, thank you to president shalala, thank you to each signatory of the petition, thank you to those who spoke to their classes, thank you most heartily to STAND, thank you to those who kept us buoyed and enthusiastic with their emails and support, thank you to all actors big and small. YAY UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: you are getting closer to being a just and fair workplace for everyone!
Update due to multiple posters: We express our solidarity with the dozens of African American clergy who signed a petition in support of the Chartwells employess and were never received by the president. We express our solidarity with all leaders of the African American community in Miami: we are all your brothers and your sisters! Today one little step towards equality has been taken.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Apparently, the University of Miami administration just sent the following notice out to the student group S.T.A.N.D. and to the UM newspaper, the Hurricane:
UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI STATEMENT ON UNIONIZING EFFORTS The University is aware of a possible work stoppage as part of a unionizing effort. Today, we have learned that Chartwells offered the union a card check, and the University is hopeful this will resolve the issues. The University assures the campus community that residential college dining halls and our food court operations will continue as scheduled through the remainder of the semester. The University values its faculty and staff, as well as employees of its contractors, including Chartwells.
If confirmed, this wonderful news means a successful conclusion to the struggle the Chartwells workers have waged for union recognition. We thank all concerned, the workers themselves, the Administration, the Union, the student and faculty supporters, for their terrific efforts!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Developments at UM: Chartwells petitioned for, and was denied, an NLRB election. What does it all mean?

On Wednesday April 17th, Chartwells, the company that employs the food service workers on the University of Miami campus, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election in which the workers can vote on whether they want a union. The circumstances in which an employer can call for such an election, rather than a union, are very rare and it is hard to imagine that Chartwells took this step without the approval of someone at the university.

On Friday April 19th, the NLRB rejected Chartwells' petition, as was expected. But why did Chartwells take this extraordinary step? And why is it a good thing that the NLRB rejected the petition for an election?

We cannot really answer the first question. Perhaps they were hoping to buy a few days, and run out the clock till the end of the semester. Or perhaps they were jockeying to position themselves as the champions of democracy and freedom of choice. 

But we can answer the second question. While NLRB elections sound good in theory, in practice they strongly favor the employer. There is a period of 30 days before the election can take place, during which the employer has ample time to find excuses to fire activists among the workers. The employer has constant access to the workers and can subject them to anti-union propaganda. The ballot itself may be held in the offices of the employer. After the election, results can be appealed and contested, delaying a resolution for literally years. For this reason, unions generally prefer a method of determining the workers' will that is fast and fair. You can read more about the different methods of unionization on Picketline, here and here.

Every day of delay is another day in which members of the UM family, workers at the largest private employer in the the country's third poorest city, are condemned to live on a pitiful $10,000 per year. Every day of delay is another day in which UM relies on taxpayers around the country to subsidize the university by providing food stamps, housing benefits, and Medicaid to the workers UM allows to be paid so poorly.

When a delegation of faculty, representing the signatories to the petition viewable here, met with President Shalala and Provost LeBlanc on Monday April 15th, they were encouraged by the President's commitment to a fast and fair process to resolve the situation of the Chartwells workers. The President assured the delegation that there would be no delays. In the light of this, we can only assume that the university administration must be relieved that the NLRB has denied Chartwells petition.

We reiterate: let there be a fast and fair process to settle this issue. If UM calls on Chartwells to follow the same path it follows elsewhere, and to follow the same path UNICCO did in 2006, this dispute could be fairly settled in a matter of days.

There may be a strike at UM!

Wage Comparison!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Motion for a living wage for UM contract employees passes Academic Senate

Yesterday, April 17th, the Academic Senate passed the following resolution, with no votes against, and only one abstention:
WHEREAS workers employed on campus as food service workers by Chartwells make on average only $9.50 per hour while workers employed on campus as janitors and groundskeepers by UNICCO make on average $11.55 per hour; 
WHEREAS Miami‐Dade county considers a living wage to be $12.06 per hour; 
WHEREAS the University of Miami is one of the largest private employers, if not the largest, in Miami‐Dade county; 
BE IT RESOLVED that the Faculty Senate urges the administration a) to affirm the importance of ensuring that all workers on campus are paid a living wage, as defined by the county; and b) to support a fair and fast resolution to workers’ efforts to improve their wages and working conditions.
This, of course, does not guarantee that the university will follow the resolution, but we certainly hope it will listen to the voice of the faculty!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Health Insurance for Chartwells Workers

On April 15th, a delegation of six faculty members met with President Shalala and Provost LeBlanc in connection with the petition for which we have been collecting signatures.

One subject that was touched on briefly was the sentence in the petition that states that "Chartwells workers... are offered health insurance only at a cost that is prohibitive to many of them." The Administration claims that they are offered free health insurance, comparable to that offered to the UNICCO workers, who are unionized. So, is our claim correct? You decide. Here are the figures as we have been able to establish them.

The Chartwells workers are offered several different plans. The cheapest is called Value Choice. It requires a bi-weekly premium of $57.78, but this is offset by a rebate provided to the workers of $49.11, plus another "Health Assessment Credit" of $8.67 if the worker certifies him/herself as a non-smoker. This means, in effect, zero premiums. Hence the university's claim about free health insurance. However, the plan comes with a $250 deductible and requires the insured to pay for 30% of most further expenses. So, not even counting the deductible, a visit to a specialist, or to the ER, or an MRI, might easily cost hundreds of dollars.

In addition, Vision and Dental plans are available and are not subsidized. The cheapest of each are $0.78 and $14.51 bi-weekly, respectively.

When you are making $10,000 a year, these costs might well be prohibitive.

The Value Choice plan is not really comparable to the plan offered to the unionized UNICCO workers, but the Network Choice plan is. It comes with no deductible and with much lower out-of-pocket expenses for various services. However, it has a bi-weekly premium of $132.88! The language in which the plans are described on the worksheet provided by Chartwells makes it seem as if the subsidies worth $57.78 which are provided to those who select the Value Choice option are not available to anyone who wants the Network Choice plan. (Whether this is an infelicity in the wording or not we cannot say for certain, since we do not know of any workers who have actually selected this better plan.) At roughly $265 per month in premiums, if a worker making $10,000 per year selected this plan, he or she would be paying roughly a third of their entire salary on health insurance premiums! (If the subsidies did still apply, such a worker would "only" be spending between one fifth and one sixth of their entire salary on those premiums.) If your monthly paycheck is around $6,000, imagine having to spend between $1,000 and $2,000 a month on premiums alone. 

Needless to say, all these premiums are for coverage of the employed alone. For an employee to insure their family under the Network Choice plan, they would have to pay nearly $800 a month, in other words, just about their entire salary!

The Chartwells table at a job fair!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Write up of Thursday's (4/4) rally in The Miami Hurricane

Here is a write up in The Miami Hurricane (by Sam Abbassi) of the rally, held on the anniversary of MLK's assassination, in support of the Chartwells food service workers on the University of Miami campus. The article in the Hurricane is, at the time of this posting, not available on-line. The following text is from a cached version. We will update with a link to the original article when it becomes available. [Link now added.]

University of Miami’s low-wage workers — along with students, faculty supporters, and members of several pro-union and workers’ rights organizations — gathered at the intersection of Stanford Drive and U.S. 1 on Thursday afternoon in protest of what they claim to be unjust treatment against Chartwells workers on campus.
Chartwells is the company in charge of most food service at the university.
“Some workers make as little as $10,000 a year and rely on public assistance. It’s simply not enough,” said Muhammed Malik, communications director for 1Miami, a union-support group.
According to Mailk, the university is the largest private sector employer in the region. Thus, it has a responsibility to set the standard on how workers should be treated, he said.
The day of the rally itself was significant, marking the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was a prevalent theme throughout the rally. The fight for workers’ rights is being made in King’s spirit, who at the end of his life was marching with sanitation workers, according to Malik.
The activist stood alongside U.S. 1 holding signs saying “We are Worth More” and the iconic civil rights placard “I am a Man,” chanting “Yes We Can.”
At the rally, fliers were distributed with the salaries of head football and basketball coaches Al Golden and Jim Larranaga, Dean of the Medical School Pascal Goldschmidt, and President Donna E. Shalala — all of whom earned more than $1 million in 2010 — to make a point about inequity in the university.
The rally received support from respected figures in the arena of workers’ rights, such as Cornell West, professor-activist at Stanford University, and Florida State Senator Arthenia Joyner, who both issued statements about the rally.
A concern that has been voiced is the harassment of Chartwells workers by their managers.
“They wore buttons saying ‘We are Worth More’ and all the managers went around saying, ‘If you don’t take that off, you’re going to get in trouble,’” said Eric Brakken, director of the Florida District at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), another organization advocating for unionization.
Braken said that this type of treatment is detrimental to all parties involved because “they’re trying to get up, and when they do, they get pushed down by their company.”
A statement from Media Relations at the University of Miami regarding the dispute addressed this point: “We strongly request both sides to abide by the rules, which most importantly, includes no harassment or intimidation of workers.”
The statement also said that the university is not taking a position but reiterates that forming a union is an option available to all workers.
One group on campus that is familiar with workers rights disputes and having success is the UNICCO workers. Seven years ago they were faced with similar issues that Chartwells workers are facing today.
“We are here to support them in their struggle to unionize, the same struggle we fought for back in 2006,” said Clara Vargas, a UNICCO employee.
Vargas, who went on a hunger strike back in 2006, said that is what it took for the UNICCO workers to receive better wages and to unionize. She hopes it does not need to happen again.
“I didn’t eat for 17 days,” she said. “We don’t want them to have to go through what we did, but if I have to do it again for Chartwells, I will.”
The Chartwells workers and their supporters efforts have achieved success, however, in the case of Betty Asbury, a line server at the dining hall at UM.
Asbury, mother of a former Hurricanes basketball player and better known as “Ms. Betty,” was fired on Oct. 10 from her position at the Hecht-Stanford Dining Hall after a man walked past her without paying for entry into the dining hall.
With staunch support from students, faculty and co-workers, Asbury was rehired and received three weeks pay back.
Asbury said her struggle is not over, however. She said that it is important for the Chartwells workers to be able to go to work without fear.
“I don’t know if I am going to have a job the next day,” she said. “We need security.”
In a demonstration of faculty support and solidarity, 205 faculty members signed a petition in support of the Chartwells workers, drawn up by Simon Evnine, professor of philosophy.
“We are here to make sure they get a fair wage,” Evnine said. “They’re getting paid terribly under living wages.”
Giovanna Pompele, who teaches women’s and gender studies, said that the university is sending a mixed message by teaching one thing in the classroom, equality, and practicing something completely different.
“I walk in to my classroom everyday and teach equality and then my students walk out of my classroom and walk into the cafeteria and food court and do they see equality? Do they see what I am teaching them?” she said.
Pompele said that Chartwells is a business, and it will try to do what is most financially lucrative for itself. Thus, in terms of who holds responsibility, it is not up to the company to stand up for its workers but rather the people who employ Chartwells.
Brakken echoed this sentiment.
“UM asks a company to bid for a contract for food services, trying to bargain for the best price,” he said. “When it does that, it chooses whichever company pays the workers the least.
Supporting the workers is what the university can do, Brakken said.
Photo: Monica Herndon

Friday, April 05, 2013

4/4 RALLY!

Below is the full text of the statement read by Philip Agnew, which was sent by Arthenia L. Joyner, FL State Senator (D), District 19, in commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and in support of the UM food workers: 
Almost half a century ago, it was a different group of working people, in a different Southern city, all of them on a quest that drove countless groups of people before them and drives each of you here today.

And so it’s somehow fitting that as we mark the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, we do so by rallying to support the food court workers at the University of Miami and their struggle to change the miserly wages they’re paid – just as Dr. King did on April 3, 1968, on behalf of sanitation workers in Memphis.  
Forty five years ago, on the eve of his death, Dr. King spoke to those workers, all those men underpaid, unappreciated, disrespected, and disavowed the full worth of a human being.  
To that sea of tired but determined faces, many of them donning signs defiantly proclaiming: “I am a Man!” he said to them: We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.”  
So today, here in Florida, I say to the workers at the University of Miami, the ones who want nothing more than a fair wage for a fair day’s work and the dignity that comes with that recognition, and to all their supporters: “March on!” Because to tolerate discrimination against one group is to open the door to discrimination against the next, until we are all swept up in second class status we have fought so hard to overcome.  
They may try to retaliate against you, they may rail against your cause, they may even curse you, but they cannot ignore you because we will stand with you.  
And so, on this 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s death, let us reaffirm his words, let us reaffirm his dream, and let us “rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Motion for the Faculty Senate

Today, the General Welfare Committee of the UM Faculty Senate unanimously approved putting the following motion on the agenda to go before the full Senate on April 17th:
WHEREAS workers employed on campus as food service workers by Chartwells make on average only $9.50 per hour while workers employed on campus as janitors and groundskeepers by UNICCO make on average $11.55 per hour;  
WHEREAS Miami‐Dade county considers a living wage to be $12.06 per hour;  
WHEREAS the University of Miami is one of the largest private employers, if not the largest, in Miami‐Dade county;  
BE IT RESOLVED that the Faculty Senate urges the administration a) to affirm the importance of ensuring that all workers on campus are paid a living wage, as defined by the county; and b) to support a fair and fast resolution to workers’ efforts to improve their wages and working conditions.
At that point, assuming it passes, it will be sent by the Senate officially to President Shalala.

Cornel West sends special message of support

The eminent intellectual Cornel West, who gave an impromptu plea on behalf of Chartwells workers on the occasion of his visit to UM last year, just sent a special message of support today:
I wholeheartedly support my brothers and sisters of the University of Miami food service workers on this day where we remember what Martin gave his life for, we must seek justice for working people. Stay strong and stand tall! Love, Cornel West.
Thank you Dr. West!

And here is the video of his visit in February 2012:

Petition from 205 (and counting) faculty at UM is delivered to President Shalala's office

Today, at noon, Simon Evnine, Philipp Schwind, Tim Watson, Linda Belgrave, Gina Maranto, and Pat McCarthy went to deliver to President Shalala a petition signed by 205 faculty members, asking the university to support the Chartwells workers in their fight for a fair wage and for justice and dignity. President Shalala was out of the country unavailable [the original wording was a mistake by the writer of this post, for which we apologize], but her personal assistant received the petition and we impressed upon her how much we would like to meet with the President to talk about our concerns. The text of the petition, and a list of signatories (updated all the time), is here.

And here are some photos of the event:

Opinion piece by Simon Evnine in Miami Hurricane

An opinion piece by philosophy professor Simon Evnine appears in today's Miami Hurricane (the student newspaper of the University of Miami). The full text of the editorial, which appears in the newspaper in shortened form, is here:

Pursuing Justice: Chartwells, the University, and the Union 

In today’s globalized world, our social relations with other people are sometimes simple, sometimes hidden and complex, and sometimes both at once, in different ways. You relate simply and directly to the Chartwells food service workers when you buy a sandwich or a cup of coffee at many places on campus (including the dining facilities in the residence halls). You may see them on a regular basis, know their names, smile and chat with them. But you are also connected to these same people via a complex set of relations you probably hardly think about. The very people who put food in your hands are the employees of a company, Chartwells, that, in turn, is employed by the University of Miami to provide these services. And you are part of UM. 

These workers with whom you interact on a daily basis are paid, on average, $9.50 per hour. This is well below what Miami-Dade county determines is a ‘living wage.’ For a single adult, a living wage is considered to be $12.06 per hour. Since campus food service workers are furloughed when classes are not in session, and since they have had their hours cut back in a move by Chartwells to squeeze the same work from them for less money, many of them make around $10,000 a year. In other words, your friendly food service workers on campus are paid poverty wages. To try and improve their pay and working conditions, a majority of these workers have officially signified their desire to join a union. Chartwells, however, is refusing to respect this choice. 

Regrettable as you may find this, you may well be asking yourselves what it has to do with UM, and hence with you. Is this not a matter between Chartwells and its employees alone? Well, imagine that your drain is blocked and you need a plumber. The various plumbers you consider employing all have their assistants. Suppose that some of those plumbers mistreat and underpay those assistants while others do not. While you will obviously be concerned with the cost to you and the quality of the work, is there anything that obliges you, in making your choice, to ignore how a plumber treats his or her assistant? Will you be indifferent to witnessing an abusive relationship as they work on your sink? Or will you make a mental note to find a different plumber next time? The fact that you don’t employ the assistant directly doesn’t make it any easier to be an accessory to their abuse by employing the plumber who abuses them. As a human being, you have all sorts of views about the kind of world you wish to live in, all sorts of conceptions about your moral responsibilities for trying to bring fairness, justice, and dignity to your fellows. Why should any of these ideals disappear just because you are making an economic decision? 

You are the University of Miami. And the University of Miami, through its students, its faculty, and its administrators, believes in fairness, justice, and dignity for all. These values, as they apply to your friendly food service workers, cannot be segregated and excluded by the University just because it does not employ those workers directly. The university can and should make known to Chartwells the value it places on allowing those who work here to pursue the legal means at their disposal to remedy, as quickly as possible, the poverty wages and other workplace problems they face.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Miami Herald covers today's press conference by faith leaders

A good piece in the Miami Herald about today's press conference given by local faith leaders at UM, in support of the Chartwells workers. A letter signed by 55 local church leaders was delivered to President Shalala (the president did not meet with the clergy).

Hearing our voices: Miss Betty says what it's all about for her

Faith leaders' press conference: No more poverty wages

Today (April 2nd) faith leaders said WeCaneDoBetter by standing with University of Miami Janitors and Cafeteria workers. No more poverty wages at University of Miami.

Pastor Vernon Gillum to give press conference

...on UM campus at noon today (April 2nd) to speak out on behalf of the Chartwells food service workers. Here he explains why.

Walk for Justice!