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Bon Appétit will be laying off all workers at retail dining locations, including Pret A Manger. Credit: Katharine Cocherl

After news broke that Penn’s dining provider, Bon Appétit Management Company, would lay off its retail dining staff after March 31 without pay, a petition calling on the University to take action has gained over 5,000 signatures.

On Tuesday night, students from the Student Labor Action Project started a Change.org petition titled “Don’t Lay Off Penn Dining Workers” addressed to the University of Pennsylvania, President Amy Gutmann, Penn Dining Services, Bon Appétit, and Compass Group. 

College junior Amanpreet Singh, who wrote the petition on behalf of SLAP, said the petition's purpose is to ensure that Bon Appétit employees continue to be paid, either by the University, or by Bon Appétit and its parent company, Compass Group.  

Bon Appétit employs the staff in Penn’s retail dining and Falk Dining Commons, while the University employs the staff in all other residential dining halls.

Penn dining employees in the residential dining halls will receive full pay and benefits through the end of the semester, as they are supporting "essential dining operations" amid the coronavirus outbreak, Penn Business Services spokesperson Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. 

Bon Appétit, however, will lay off its approximately 140-person retail dining staff without pay after March 31.

“In a time where the world is relying on community to stay safe and healthy, Penn Dining and Bon Appétit are pulling the rug under from dining hall workers by laying off all workers at retail dining locations including Houston, Pret-A-Manger, Falk Dining Cafe, and Joe’s Cafe, after March 31st,” the petition reads.

Singh, a former DP reporter, said she started the petition both to hold Penn accountable and to raise awareness among students. She feels Penn has a responsibility to make sure its workers get paid.

“We just really want to see University take action and support the community that they are supposed to care about,” Singh said.

The Student Labor Action Project launched the petition on Tuesday with the goal of reaching 7,500 signatures.

2004 Stuart Weitzman School of Design graduate and Philadelphia City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier took to social media on Thursday to share a past DP article on Bon Appétit laying off workers without pay. She said in an interview with the DP that she hopes the University uses its influence to ensure workers are paid. 

“I'm looking to [the University] to stand up and say that this is an injustice, and that these workers, who tirelessly serve their students in the Penn community deserve to be taken care of,” Gauthier said. “I think that’s the morally responsible thing to do, and to the extent that they’re able to speak up about that and carry that banner will get Compass to move.”

Wharton and Engineering senior Amit Gupta, who signed the petition, added that the University has a responsibility to pay the Bon Appétit workers as they continue to pay other Penn employees during the campus shutdown.

“Whether or not [the Bon Appétit staff] are Penn’s own employees, they’re still people whose livelihoods depend on Penn, and who are negatively affected by Penn’s decision, which was not made with their consent,” Gupta said.

Penn Hillel co-presidents College junior Sydney Lewis and College junior Shira Silver have created a website through which students can donate any sum of money to the staff at Falk Dining Commons. Penn Hillel will distribute the money to Falk Dining workers and their families, Lewis and Silver wrote.

“We are deeply concerned to hear about the 140 dining workers at Penn that are being laid off with no financial support," Lewis and Silver wrote. "We are worried for the physical and emotional wellbeing of these hardworking staff members, who will face serious financial hardships as a result of this decision.”

College senior and SLAP member Erik Vargas said Penn’s use of subcontracted workers in its retail dining allows the University to get away with not having to pay all the dining hall staff during the shutdown.

“It’s a way for [the University] to get out of being blamed and to get out of a lot of liability,” he said.

Vargas added that SLAP plans to create a GoFundMe page for the laid off workers.

College first-year Gabriel Gutierrez described the layoff of Bon Appétit staff as "heartless" and hopes Penn will offer financial assistance to the Bon Appétit dining staff.

“It's almost like [the University] is viewing the people who are working as just labor," Gutierrez said. "I question whether or not they view professors that way." 

College junior Jaden Baum added that Penn's $14 billion endowment gives the University no excuse not to help pay Bon Appétit workers for the rest of the semester.

“We can't let the folks who are vulnerable and who are counting on all of us fall through the cracks,” Gauthier said.

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