No appetite for low wages: Bon Appétit negotiates new contract

Nathan Acuña

The contract between Whittier College’s committed cafeteria company, Bon Appétit, and its workers who are unionized under UNITE HERE Local 11 expired this past August. The contract is currently under renegotiation and workers have requested extensions since its expiration.

Bon Appétit and a council of their staff met twice in the Campus Inn (CI) over the summer while students were away to negotiate a new contract. Many amendments were agreed upon rather quickly, and the workers conceded on their proposals for longevity incentives and vacation day accumulation. However, a heated fight for a fair wage has drawn the negotiations out well into September. “We thought there were going to be better resolutions,” Campus Inn Grill Cook Luis Benitez said. “They were taking away our proposals, little by little, and we didn’t come to an agreement.” 

The three-year-old contract currently instated dictates a pay raise of 55 cents after one year with the company, followed by a pay raise of 45 cents for each new year. Worker representatives desired an initial pay raise of 65 cents for their first year; however, Bon Appétit put forward a plan to lower the first year’s raise to 45 cents, followed by 35 cents per year thereafter.

Due to this conflict, UNITE HERE has helped the workers bring their concerns to administrators on campus who they feel can influence the negotiations, including Dean of Students Joel Perez and Vice President of Finances Jim Dunkelman. 

The cafeteria staff was supported by students and faculty who appeared at several negotiations. Worker’s rights student organization PoetsOrganzing for Worker’s Economic Rights (POWER) attended to vocalize the value of the workers in the Poet community. After one such negotiation, shouts of “Si se puede! [Yes we can]” echoed throughout the then-deserted Campus Center. 

Whittier’s ASWC has also joined the conversation by writing a resolution entitled the Community Labor Compensation Resolution. This was passed with a unanimous “yes” vote at the Senate retreat on Aug. 28. This bill was written by current ASWC Vice President Sofia Dueñas and Senior POWER president Luz Castro to show support for our Bon Appétit workers.

Union Chief negotiator Barbara Lewis plans to meet with the workers Thursday, Sept. 8 at 3:30 p.m. outside of the Campus Inn. The company has recently reached out to UNITE HERE for another meeting on Sept. 19 to revisit the issue where Lewis and the workers will voice their concerns. “We’re hoping that [they] better understand our proposal,” Benitez said, “especially since there are people who have been working with the company for more than 10, 17 or 20 years.”

The cafeteria workers want Bon Appétit and others to know that they belong in this community and deserve to be treated fairly. “We enjoy our jobs; we enjoy interacting with the students,” Cashier Mayra Macias said outside of Mendenhall after the second negotiation. “It’s not easy as an employee … we’re all scared, I’m scared, too. I want a fair wage, I deserve a fair wage, and I’m not going to stop until I have a fair wage.”