Open Letter to Mary McEneany, from Bon Appétit Workers
March 22, 2016
We are writing in response to your email regarding an upcoming transition in Hampshire’s food system. This email introduced a shift from Bon Appétit to a new company to operate the Bridge and Kern cafes. Missing from this email, however, was a clear articulation of what this would mean for the workers currently employed here. We are therefore writing you to offer a workers’ perspective on this transition.
Here is what your plan would mean for us: as currently proposed, all workers employed at The Bridge would be laid off and made to reapply for our jobs, with no guarantee of being re-hired. Should we be re-hired, there would be no guarantee of continued pay rate or benefits, and no union contract. Also missing from your email was a recent decision to outsource the various weddings and events held at the Red Barn to an off-campus catering company. This would result in significant work reductions and layoffs, with the word being outsourced to lower-paid, nonunion, off-campus workers.
We have always considered ourselves part of the Hampshire community. Two years ago, we won our union with 94% majority. While we decided to organize for a variety of reasons, the basic theme was a sense of pride we took in our jobs, and a desire to have more of a voice in the work process. Our union is much more than an economic contract; our relationships with each other, with our jobs and with this campus have grown fundamentally stronger because of it. So we want to be very clear: the fine print of these decisions pose a serious and direct threat to the continuation of this union.
In your email, you wrote of the College’s commitment to its “reputation as a thought leader in sustainable innovation.” As Cooks, Servers, Dishwashers, and Cashiers, we care about the food we serve. We are eager to further Hampshire’s investment in local, organic, ethically sourced food, which supports our local economy (and tastes much better!). And while these factors are absolutely critical, it is past time we broaden this conversation to also include the lives of our food system workers. We cannot collectively engage with the ethics of our food chain while ignoring the conditions of those employed within it. In order for our food system to be truly sustainable, workers should have access to full-time work, with the ability to provide for our families and play contributing roles in our communities. A transition toward part-time, non-union labor has no place in a sustainable food system.
We understand that the financial challenges facing Hampshire are real. You have a responsibility to ensure the college remains open in the future, and we appreciate the gravity of this responsibility. We too need Hampshire to stay open. It is important, however, to keep this rhetoric of fiscal response responsibility in context. Even with our union contract, the average Bon Appétit worker earns roughly $21,000 per year, making us your lowest paid employees on campus by over 60%. (Hampshire College Staff Salaries – Chronicle Data). There is simply not much money to be saved by asking your lowest-paid workers to take a pay cut. But even if you could manage to squeeze a better margin here, what does this austerity from the bottom-up say about our ethics as a campus? Because this transition represents more than a financial decision; it represents a real opportunity to examine our values as a campus, and bring them into broader discussion of labor in this country.
Over the last year, as the US continues to crawl out of recession, we have listened to the media settle on its narrative of our country’s economic rebound. This rebound, however, has not been felt by workers like us. The climate of fear surrounding a potential depression in 2008 drove policymakers to balance the country’s fiscal crisis on the backs of low-income homeowners and working-class families. With our financial institutions in need of a bailout, workers have been left holding the bill.
Faced with its own financial obstacles, we believe in this community to hold itself to a higher standard. This college’s mission, as we understand it, is based on tenets of ingenuity, civic responsibility, and social progress. In the haste to balance the budget, workers’ job security should not be acceptable collateral damage. This community’s most vulnerable workers should not be asked to sacrifice, simply because we lack the political capital to say no.
Before this campus hosted Sodexo or Bon Appétit, the Bridge Café was named Annie’s Café, after our beloved Annie Kamansky. Last week Annie was told that, after forty years of service to this college, she was being asked to reapply for her own job. IN a recent meeting, you repeated that workers were not responsible for the issues within our food program. If that is true, why are we being asked to pay the cost of this transition?
What we are asking is very simple. Some 50 weddings, and many other functions, will be held at the Red Barn this year, while hundreds of students will be served at The Bridge every day. Many meals will be served on this campus. This work should be done by those of us who already work here, with the union we belong to. We should keep our jobs and our union contract.
It is well within your authority to require a new vendor to keep on current staff and job standards. Hampshire did this three years ago with the transition to Bon Appétit. You recently received a petition with signatures from over half of Hampshire’s student body, asking for as much. This campus has made it very clear where our values are in this moment. We are asking that you listen. Thank you for your time in reading our letter. We look forward to working together in building a more ambitious, transparent, sustainable food system.
If you are reading this and want to discuss further, please contact Jonah Vorspan-Stein, Vice President Local 164, Hampshire College UNITED HERE NEJB, at email@example.com
Executive Board of Hampshire College Local 164, UNITE HERE NEJB.