After three weeks of public campaigning, workers behind the Justice on the Menu campaign are making a decisive push towards unionizing.
Tuesday, the Teamsters Local Union 929 announced that all 15 full-time employees at Hillel’s Falk Dining Commons will vote on possible representation by the union.
The election will take place within six weeks, according to Teamsters Local 929 Secretary-Treasurer John Preston.
“The employees that work there deserve more job security,” he said.
Several employees expressed optimism about the outcome of the election.
The workers may even decide to join Teamsters unanimously, said Kareem Wallace, a team leader for the campaign.
“We are all on the same page,” said Rabia Abdul, a baker at Falks Dining Commons.
The Justice on the Menu campaign, led by several Falk Dining Commons workers and student activists, is focused on better wages, sick pay and vacation time.
“What I’m hoping for is a change,” said Wallace, also a cook at the Falk Dining Commons. Though he has worked at Penn for eight years, he had recently considered “bettering my opportunities elsewhere” in order to provide for his family.
But after a year of campaigning, “we’re not afraid to wait,” he added.
“Now we have more push than we had before,” said Abdul, who has worked at Penn for nine years. She hopes for higher pay to better support her family. “When we put our work in, we’ll see the effort,” she added.
The Justice on the Menu campaign developed in response to differences in the working conditions between food service workers employed by the Bon Appetit Management Company and those employed directly by Penn. Whereas the Bon Appetit employees are not unionized, University employees are.
Since coming out publicly, the campaign has received little feedback from Bon Appetit, according to Wallace. Representatives offered to schedule a meeting after Passover, but it never materialized, he said.
“I’m disappointed in my company because they couldn’t meet our goals and listen to us when we needed them to,” he said. Bon Appetit declined to comment on the delayed meeting.
The Teamsters union plans to improve the workers’ wages, benefit packages — including time off — and their overall working conditions, Preston said.
Another goal, he added, is to achieve wage parity with the dining hall workers employed by Penn.
Before considering whether to join the Teamsters, the workers had been in contact with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which also represents all dining hall workers employed directly by Penn.
But AFSCME, which will be renewing its collective bargaining agreement with Penn at the end of June, did not respond quickly enough, according to Wallace.
“We have to meet with the workers to plan out how we will take future steps,” said Paul Dannenfelser, a district council representative for AFSMCE District Council 47, after today’s developments. Dannenfelser declined to comment specifically on the upcoming vote.
Preston said he might also be interested in working with the rest of Penn’s 109 full-time Bon Appetit employees in the future. “We would love to represent all the workers,” he said.
AFSCME has also expressed a similar interest in “[making] sure that everybody who should be covered by the collective bargaining agreement does get covered by the collective bargaining agreement,” as Dannenfelser told the DP before the Justice on the Menu campaign first came out publicly.
Penn Business Services and the Bon Appetit Management Company did not respond to requests for comments on the union vote by press time.
Bon Appetit employees have unionized in several other universities, including at California’s University of Laverne in March and at Stanford University in 2002.Comments powered by Disqus
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