Lesley’s food service workers also looking to unionize

Originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle on Feb. 25, 2014.

Food service workers at Lesley University came before the Cambridge City Council Monday, Feb. 24, to ask for their support in contract negotiations they say have stalled.

According to the policy order, submitted by councilors Marc McGovern and Denise Simmons, the workers voted to join Unite Here Local 26 in March last year. They’ve been trying to negotiate a contract ever since, several members said at the Monday night meeting.

Randy Wright, a cook at Lesley, said that he had never been treated with as much disrespect as in the last five years working for Bon Appetit, the company Lesley contracts for its dining services. Wright said he’s been a cook for 35 years.

“This is the first job I’ve worked where they really don’t care about their employees,” Wright said. “I only make $17,000 a year and I live in a rooming house in the worst part of Dorchester. I don’t feel safe. I’d love to live in Cambridge, but I can’t afford it.”

Lesley faculty member, Eleanor Roffman, described the inability of the university to pay its lowest-paid workers a livable wage a “grave injustice.” Lesley student Theresa Powers said it was ridiculous that these workers were feeding her every day and yet didn’t have enough money to feed their own families.

“It’s really difficult to be proud of a school whose actions don’t line up with the values that they preach,” Powers said. “It’s really important that Lesley make a change.”

Lesley University director of communications, John Sullivan, declined to comment.

“We respect the collective bargaining process so any comment on this situation really should come from the parties at the bargaining table, Bon Appetit and the union representing Bon Appetit’s employees,” Sullivan said.

Councilor McGovern said he was frustrated Lesley wasn’t “willing to step up to the plate” and intervene in the contract negotiations.

“If you hire someone to do a job for you, and that person is mistreating their employees, you absolutely have a responsibility to get involved,” McGovern said. “You are paying that subcontractor with university funds, and they are blatantly mistreating their workers.”

Ed Fogarty, the general manager for Bon Appetit at Lesley, also declined to comment and deferred further questions to Bonnie Powell, director of communications for Bon Appetit.

“We can’t comment on either employee compensation, which is confidential, or on ongoing union negotiations,” Fogarty said. Powell offered the same response.

The City Council unanimously passed a policy to “go on record expressing support for food service workers at Lesley University as they strive for a better life and calling on university leadership to facilitate a just and expeditious settlement between the workers and their employer.”


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