Bon Appétit employees at the University of La Verne continue to fight for pay raises in their long-overdue renewed contract, which expired in August 2019. Workers went on a strike vote on Tuesday where 100% of the votes made were in favor of authorizing a strike.
The standard has been raised since food service workers at Pomona College received a new contract. The minimum wage at Pomona College increased from $18.60 to $21.10 an hour and by July 2024, it will be $25 an hour. Workers at Pomona College went on a walkout strike in October 2022.
“Given how expensive things are getting across the board, gas, food and rent, we believe that’s a good benchmark to shoot for to start raising the standards so that even the folks that work in our dining halls can afford to take care of their families and live comfortably,” Arun Ramakrishna, Unite Here Local 11 organizer, said.
Unite Here Local 11 is working with Bon Appétit workers at La Verne and Whittier College to negotiate their contracts to fit their needs. Both groups are under the same contract.
Final decisions regarding the strike will be made following Whittier College’s next negotiation meeting on Friday.
“We’re fighting for the same standard as Pomona, and the raises that we’re asking for are larger than Pomona’s because folks that are working at La Verne have been making far less for a very long time than the folks at Pomona,” Ramakrishna said. “So we’re asking for more, but the reason why is because people have been making far less.”
Workers have now had four meetings to negotiate their contract with Bon Appétit.
“(Bon Appétit) keeps postponing (the meetings) or changing the date, and it’s been really frustrating because it’s been months and months,” Sean Fricke, cook at Barbara’s Place, said.
Fricke said almost every single employee was in favor of the strike.
“It’s been about 18 months since we’ve gotten a raise,” Cora Hammons, barista at Barbara’s Place, said. “We’ve been trying to get this new contract for a year and a half now.”
Hammons has worked for Bon Appétit since 2018 and makes $16.50 an hour.
“In the (previous) contract it states that we’re supposed to get a raise annually, October every year,” Fricke said.
He said since there is no renewed contract, workers are getting paid based on the expired contract. Fricke has worked for Bon Appétit since 2017 and currently makes $17.15 an hour.
“One of the biggest things that we hear is that the size of the raises that we’re asking for is unrealistic,” Ramakrishna said. “But I think that more so just speaks to how long it’s been since folks have actually gotten a raise and it speaks to how far behind their wages are… We’re expressing what we need, and then we get proposals from (Bon Appétit). So far, those proposals haven’t matched up to what we’re looking for.”
ULV Bon Appétit workers are also fighting for pension.
“Folks don’t have the ability right now to retire with dignity,” Ramakrishna said. “That’s something that we feel pretty strongly (about). It’s something that both workers at the University of La Verne, and just workers in general, should have the ability to do.”
Hammons said there are cooks at The Spot that have been working there for over a decade, and they do not have the option to retire.
Workers at Bon Appétit said the lack of pay raises is not the only issue in the workplace. Many said they feel unsupported and even targeted by their management team, especially after becoming more vocal about fighting for a higher wage.
Jackie Tejeda, former cashier at The Spot, quit in December of 2022 after a year of feeling underpaid, unappreciated, and singled out for requesting days off to take care of her daughter.
“(My manager) started to pull out my attendance records and tell me, ‘you’re getting written up for missing so much,’ but I never got a verbal warning,” Tejeda said. “You’re supposed to get one first before you get written up. She just started to pick on me and it was just very frustrating. It made me work harder and it made life a little harder.”
Tejeda said the cooks would often not take a lunch break because there were not enough staff to cover them, and the management team often did not offer support.
Tejeda is a single mother. She was being paid $15.50 an hour during her time working there in 2022.
According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculation for Los Angeles County, California, a living wage for one working adult with one child is $43.81 an hour.
“The point of (the strike) is to put pressure on the company and show that we’re serious about these demands because it’s bottom line what people need to live in this area, especially in the Inland Empire,” Ramakrishna said.
Anabel Martinez can be reached at email@example.com.
Anabel Martinez is a senior digital media major with a concentration in film and television, and a journalism minor. She serves as the managing editor overseeing all of the Campus Times sections and was previously editor-in-chief in Spring 2022.