Kamila K. De La Fuente
Labor negotiations have stalled for workers employed by the Bon Appétit Management Company, which provides all on-campus dining including at The Spot and Barbara’s Place.
Bon Appetit workers, who are unionized under the Local 11 union, are long past due for renegotiating their contracts, as the previous contract expired in August 2019. Since then, workers have been getting by on a contract extension and are waiting on Bon Appétit to return to the negotiating table.
Food service workers here, including some students, say they don’t know how much more they can take.
“We are severely understaffed to the point where we have zero p.m. employees, except for the supervisor,” said Sean Fricke, grill cook at Barbara’s Place.
“I am frustrated and just really angry about this situation,” said Fricke, who has worked for ULV food service for five years, both at Barb’s and the Spot. “I am so close to walking away.”
Also at issue are wages, say the food service workers.
The minimum wage in California is currently $14 to $15 an hour depending on the total number of employees. The last contract for Bon Appetit workers here included a $1.20 per hour raise each year. In 2019, workers for Bon Appetit made $14.20 to $16.75 per hour. In 2020, workers made from $15.40 to $17.95 per hour. In 2021, workers made from $16.60 to $18.15 per hour.
While Bon Appetit wages are above the current state minimum wage, given that inflation this year alone is nearly 8%, Bon Appetit workers and their union are calling for an increase.
“Student workers are getting paid (close to) minimum wage and are basically being used as an extra labor force to fill the gaps from what is not fully staffed because the kitchen is painfully understaffed,” said Natasha Wong, Local 11 union representative.
Wong’s job is to serve as a point of communication between the workers and the union. And as such she plays a crucial role in the grievance process between workers and management.
She said the workers want to sit down and negotiate a new contract, and management has continued to stall.
“The huge lack of management taking their workers seriously when what their workers are asking for is not that crazy – they don’t feel listened to or respected by the company,” Wong said.
Bon Appetit management sees the situation differently.
“Bon Appetit respects workers’ right to unionize,” Michael Venckus, Bon Appetit regional vice president, said in an emailed statement this week.
“We have positive relationships with unions at many of our cafe locations and also have a good relationship with Local 11,” Venckus said. “Bon Appetit’s employees are our most important asset, and we look forward to sitting down with them and the Local 11 to reach an agreement that is positive for everyone.”
Still workers here want to see conditions improve.
“This ongoing battle with management put a lot of emotional stress on us,” said Jackie Tejeda, morning cashier at The Spot. “I feel like we’re not appreciated enough, and to then bring this stress home… It’s very frustrating.”
Tejeda is a single mother who works two jobs to make ends meet. After submitting a grievance to Bon Appetit management, she said management began to scrutinize her attendance record.
“It has been a rollercoaster for me,” Tejeda says.
“We’re not able to keep employees long-term,” said Cora Hammons, barista and cashier at Barbara’s Place. “Over the last four years that I’ve been working here, we’ve gone through about five or six baristas.”
Bon Appétit is a multi-million dollar company that offers full food-service management to corporations, universities, museums and other specialty venues. It operates more than 1,000 cafes in 33 states.
La Verne is not the only place experiencing union and pay concerns.
At Pomona College, workers fought for wage raises in a walkout last Friday and Saturday.
As of this week, no date has been set to resume negotiations for La Verne’s food service workers.
Kamila De La Fuente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Pomona College contracts its food service with Bon Appetit. Pomona College food services workers are actually employed by the college. The Campus Times regrets the error.