Bon Appétit union succeeds in raising wages

By Hanna Merzbach

The Bon Appétit Union signed a new contract with the Bon Appétit management company on Jan. 30, ending the months-long bargaining process. The contract guarantees a 7 percent wage increase for all union employees, retroactive to Oct. 1, 2017, along with free parking and affordable healthcare scheduled to go into effect in 2020.

The Bon Union went public in March 2017; a bargaining committee was then formed, consisting of four Bon Appétit employees and Union Representative and Vice President of Unite Here Local 8 Jennifer Graham.

Although the union has gained considerable momentum since the start of fall semester, they did not feel supported until recently.

“For a long time, it was just a lot of crying and banging our heads against the wall,” Bargaining Committee member and Lead Barista at Maggie’s Cheryl Roberts said.

After their sixth bargaining session in Nov. 2017, Roberts said the negotiations had reached a stalemate.

“We had a couple of sessions where we really didn’t feel like either side made any progress towards a reasonable point that we can all agree to,” Roberts said.

In the end, Bon Appétit sent their Senior Vice President for West Coast Operations to ensure an agreement was reached. This was largely due not only to the union’s persistence, but also to student support.

“The students were really, really key in Bon Appetit saying ‘we want to get this done,’” Graham said. “The students had made it very clear that they were involved and were willing to be more involved … The company knew that the students would probably continue to support.”

The Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA)  played a key role in providing support. They handed out stickers that said “LC students support the Bon workers” in front of Fields Dining Hall, bringing the student body’s attention to the issue.

“It was not just important to us to see that solidarity but the company saw it, and then they ended up sending in people with even more power,” Bargaining Committee member and Bon Appétit cook Leslie Van said. “That was the tipping point, knowing that the students were behind us.”

YDSA also showed their support in other ways.

“Over the course of their contract campaign, we went to bargaining sessions,” YDSA co-chair Zane Dundon ’18 said. “We didn’t say anything. We were just a presence in the room to signal to the management that the students were in support of the workers and that we would be there to back them up.”

Maggie’s employee and RA Lindsey Clark ’18 also attended many bargaining sessions.

“Students have power in a way that nobody else on this campus has power,” Clark said. “When all of the student chairs in the negotiating room were full, you could see how the company representatives changed the way that they were speaking. It shook them up a little bit.”

Since the new contracts went into effect, the union has been pleased with the Bon Appétit management at Lewis & Clark.

“So far, they’re very committed to following what we negotiated on,” Van said. “They’re always willing to ask for help when they don’t think they are understanding the spirit of the contract.”

New Bon Appétit General Manager Ryan Jensen has helped ease this transitional phase.

“(Jensen) is so onboard with us,” Graham said. “He is just doing so much more than most managers that we have had in that position have ever done. He shows up and asks questions and tries to get problems solved right away … That is not how it usually goes.”

Upon signing the contract, union employees received a 7 percent wage increase retroactive to Oct. 1.

“(Retroactive pay) is very unusual to get in a first union contract,” Graham said. “In fact, it’s almost unheard of.”

Additionally, annual raises of $0.60 in Oct. 2018 and $0.65 in Oct. 2019 were agreed upon. This is a monumental victory for many employees.

“There are people who have worked here for 20 plus years that for the first time, since starting here, are making more than minimum wage,” Roberts said.

While the pay raises went into effect immediately, employees will not have access to affordable healthcare until 2020, when Bon Appétit will start paying 85 percent of health insurance costs. This delay is largely due to the negotiation’s failure to conclude before the start of the new year; the employees missed the opportunity to switch healthcare for 2018.

However, the union did choose to prioritize wages over healthcare for the time being.

“When it came down to what do you want to negotiate for more, the wages or the healthcare, it was like okay we are just going to go without healthcare for one more year because everyone needs the money,” Bargaining Committee member and Law School Sous Chef Travis Vance said.

Additionally, all union members now have either free parking or bus passes, whereas all employees previously paid $50 a month for parking.

“It was basically 30 cents an hour off of our pay,” Roberts said.

The majority of workers live in East Portland and have to commute.

“A lot of people don’t live in the area because the rents are unaffordable for what we make,” Vance said. “A lot of people don’t have cars, so they have to bus in.”

The contract also provides for job protection and fairness in discipline, the right to speak up and take action about workplace injustices and the right to representation. Shop stewards, workers who volunteer to act as union representatives on the job, now supervise work conditions.

Workers are also now paid for work done outside of their job classification.

“For example, when our dishwashers are asked to do a task that is above their current pay grade (like a prep cook) and they are asked to do that task for more than an hour, they need to get paid at the higher rate of prep cook,” Van said.

Managers now must schedule according to seniority and job postings must first be sent to the union and shop stewards before being made public. The company also cannot use temps when union workers are available.

“One good thing that has happened with the new contract is that the company has to offer overtime before they can bring in temps,” Graham said. “People are getting more offers to come in and do work for overtime and get more work, rather than just having random people come in.”

Despite these positive changes, Bon Appétit still faces serious labor shortages.

“We are still having to backfill with temporary labor to make things happen on a daily basis,” Vance said.

Bon Appétit struggles to fill positions because of the probability of summer unemployment.

“It is not as simple as you might think to, over the summer, go and get another temporary job,” Graham said. “It is a very stressful kind of life.”

Although the company has agreed to offer some summer work and recall workers after breaks in seniority order, the union hopes for more in future negotiations.

“What I desperately want out of the next contract is I want to find a way to employ people who get laid off in the summertime,” Roberts said. “I want the company to partner with other companies, like OMSI (another Bon Appétit location), for example.”

The union will have an opportunity to renegotiate their contracts in 2020.

“We intentionally settled a pretty short contract, so we can come back in two years and ask for more,” Graham said. “The average union contract is about three years, but we wanted it to be a little shorter, so we can come back and make things even better sooner.”

The union looks forward to further developing their relationship with Appétit and advocating for their rights.

“There is a lot of room to grow and a little bit above minimum wage is not good enough, but right now we are taking the right steps towards really having a good relationship with (Bon Appétit) and holding them accountable,” Roberts said.

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