Students voice support for Bon Appétit union

On any given day around 2:15 p.m. the Bon Appétit workers gather for a post-shift safety meeting in the center of Fields Dining Hall. On Nov. 19, a large group of students entered the dining hall and interrupted the safety meeting. They carried cardboard signs with various slogans and designs. Their purpose was to explicitly support the Bon Appétit worker’s union in their demand for higher wages. 

Once the students had gathered, Aneliese Baker ’23 began reading a statement that introduced the students as a delegation representing a wide cross section of interest groups from the student body. This cross section included Prison Abolition Club, the Grounds student workers, the Feminist Student Union (FSU), the Committee for Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (EIJC), the Neurodivergent Student Union and the Associated Student Body (ASB).

The beginning of their statement reads as follows: “We are here to express solidarity with the unionized Bon Appétit employees, who have demanded better pay and better staffing.”

During the first moments of the meeting, management staff attempted to bring an end to the safety meeting by ordering employees to return to work, but the workers, and a large number of the students still eating, had already gathered around the delegation and the meeting continued. 

The role of speaker was passed off to the delegates from the various student organizations present. Each delegate carried a single copy of their collaboratively written statement, and read a portion pertaining to their organization. Every statement expressed support for the Bon Workers union in their ongoing calls for higher wages to match the rising cost of living and to alleviate significant understaffing. 

Alaryx Tenzer ’23 was present as a delegate from the Neurodivergent Student Union (NDSU) and as a member of Prison Abolition Club. When asked why the NDSU had sent him as a delegate, Tenzer cited equity concerns.

“It is so vital that employees of Bon Appétit are compensated for the immense labor they put into student life,” Tenzer said. “We prioritize equity in work, and the current Bon staffing wages are inequitable.”

Tenzer, who serves as the director of allocations in the ASB cabinet, was also present to represent their constituents in the student body, although their opinions do not represent those of the ASB as a whole.  According to Vice President of ASB Olivia Weiss, Sarah Lind-MacMillan, who serves as president of ASB, will be meeting with General Manager of Fields Dining Hall Ryan Jensen in the coming weeks. This is a regularly scheduled meeting, however Lind-MacMillan plans to bring up student concerns surrounding the Bon union and LC’s role in facilitating labor relations

Eeshani Thomas ’24, vice chair of EIJC, was present as a delegate for that committee. 

“We’re not making any demands other than to listen to Bon workers,” Thomas said. “We wanted to disrupt their meeting to show that if they’re not going to listen to the workers, they’re going to receive pushback from the school, and we’re not going to take no for an answer.”

For Baker however, the delegation was about more than just the immediate details of the current labor dispute.

“I’m really hopeful for wherever this leads us, especially if we’re able to have a stronger community dedicated to labor activism on campus,” Baker said. 

Baker also spoke to more general aspirations, criticizing the presence of Bon Appétit’s parent company, Compass Group, at LC. She also criticized the ethics of Compass Group, which has at times provided services both to United States prisons and the U.S. military overseas.

“Why do we have a corporation at this school in the first place?” Baker said. “Corporations don’t really seem to represent sustainability or social justice to me.” 

After the conclusion of the statement, the delegation’s members lingered briefly to speak with the Bon workers present, some of whom had been moved to tears during the reading. Several minutes later, following hugs with Bon employees and the delivery of a copy of the delegation’s statement to Bon management, the group moved to an impromptu meeting and discussion in the FSU office. 

In regards to the impact of the delegation, the conflict between Bon workers and management remains ongoing. 

“I wish that students had more power, that our voices were heard more,” Thomas said, adding that members of the delegation are not at liberty to share details of the continuing contract process between the union and management.  

Despite the lack of an immediate response on the part of management, the student delegates remain confident in the efficacy of further organizing, and have no intention of ending their campaign. When asked about potential further actions, Thomas mentioned symbolic acts of solidarity, such as pins.

“EIJC is working on pins to give out to students to show solidarity [with workers],” Thomas said.  

Baker, who was previously involved in the Young Democratic Socialists of America’s 2019-20 campaign in support of the Bon union, stressed the openness of the delegation’s campaign and the importance of participation from the student body as a whole.

 “I want to make it clear that our delegation is not an exclusive thing,” Baker said. “We’re organizing horizontally, there are no leaders in our organization, so everyone is welcome to be represented.” 

Baker also encouraged students to remain attentive to further calls to action. 

“There will be social media posts asking for mass solidarity or signing petitions in the future if the demands are not met,” Baker said. “Of course, we don’t know where we are situated right now, but in the future I would love for students to be prepared for something like that to go out over social media.”

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