Moving Foward

On Friday April 1, over 150 students from the Student/Worker Solidarity Network marched from the dining commons to the office of Mary McEneany, VP of Finance and Treasurer, to demand that Bridge workers be guaranteed their jobs, wages, benefits, and union contract during a transition to a new vendor. We also demanded that students be given decision making power in this and all future vendor transitions.

Our protest sent a clear, strong message that Hampshire students will not stand by and watch the administration make decisions without our input. Our march was in support of the workers, not in support of Bon Appetit staying at Hampshire; our vision involved workers retaining their jobs during a transition to a new vendor at the Bridge Cafe, as well any future vendor transitions.

The transition that was being crafted by the upper administration (without student or worker input) was designed to increase local purchasing, and was likely to be superior in quality to what Bon Appetit currently provides. However, it was also a flawed plan: it did not include student input, left many needs unaddressed, and was based on employment practices that were actively opposed by the workers’ union.

Unfortunately, the administration felt that the only way to meet our demands was to call off the vendor transition for this semester, and begin a new process that will develop over the next year. We had clearly communicated to Mary McEneany that we were excited about the new vendor; so on Sunday, we were dismayed to hear that instead of incorporating student and worker feedback into this process, the process would be starting over from scratch.

Our dream is of a food system that embodies all of our values; this is impossible without the voices of the students and workers. This requires structural changes in the way decisions are made. As we find new vendors for the Bridge Cafe, Kern Kafe, Prescott Tavern, and Dining Commons, we are committed to finding a solution that meets the needs of EVERYONE at Hampshire. This will only be achieved through continued pressure on the administration to engage our entire community.

 
If you have questions, criticisms, concerns, ideas or want to get involved please contact swsn.hampshire@gmail.com, or get in touch by messaging the Facebook page Student <-> Worker Solidarity Hampshire College.

April 1st Action!

marchh
Photo by Aldyn Markle

On Friday April 1, at least 150 Hampshire and five college students marched from the dining hall, around campus, and then to the office of Mary McEneany, Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer. At least 60 students marched into Mary’s office and staged a sit-in. Campus Police were called. Mary met with us briefly, refused to meet our demands, and then proceeded to leave campus for the day along with every other person who works in Blair Hall.We completely shut down the Business Office, hours before normal closing time.

sit in
Photo by Keon Ruddy 

Campus police and Assistant Dean of Students, Pam Tinto, asked us to leave, citing the need to lock the building. Having shut down that office, we made the decision to leave Mary’s office and go to the office of then Acting President Byron McCrae, upstairs in the Merrill Living Room. The doors were locked in advance of our arrival. Two offices shut down.

Secretary of the college, Beth Ward and Chief Creative Officer, David Gibson were awaiting us inside and welcomed us into the space. Beth communicated to us that Byron was also out of town (meaning all three of our potential presidents were unreachable). She graciously received our demands and said that she was unable to meet them but that we were welcome to stay. Beth and David stayed with us for nearly 3 hours, until 4:30 when the President’s Office closed and we dispersed for the day.

 
At the end of the day, the Student <-> Worker Solidarity Network made it known that many students on this campus care about respecting workers and about demanding what is right. More than 10% of the student body joined the march from the dining commons and we are not going to stop now. We plan to escalate our actions and continue to demand accountability and respect from Mary McEneany and other stakeholders.

march
Photo by Daniel Vogel

Timeline leading up to 4/1 Action

The action on Friday was not a rash decision. It was a careful response to more than a month of the administration refusing to recognize our concerns, as well as those of the workers. Here is a brief recap of the events leading up to the March and Sit-In lead by the Student <-> Worker Solidarity Network on April 1st:

Week of February 15: Two Division III students meet with Mary and discuss her vision for a transition away from Bon Appetit at Hampshire. Mary mentions that she is not averse to workers forming cooperative management structure for food service at Hampshire.

February 22: Mary McEneany sends an email to Hampshire Community announcing intent to release an RFP to unnamed local vendors in order to find a new vendor to run the Kern Cafe and Bridge Cafe. This is the first that any workers hear about the transition and realize that many of their jobs are on the line.

February 23: Division III student focussing on Hampshire’s food system asks Mary who RFP will be sent to and also asks to see RFP. Mary shares RFP with the student but refuses to share the names of the 5 local vendors she intends to send the RFP to.

Week of February 29: Two students join workers at their Union meeting as they discuss the vendor transition, its impact on their jobs, and possible actions that can be taken to avoid being laid off, made to reapply for their jobs, and lose their union contract. Worker-led petition for student body is launched.

March 1: Mary meets with a small group of students to discuss transition away from Bon Appetit as well as some of her other projected changes to Hampshire’s food system (including mandatory meal plan).

Week of March 4: Workers meet with Mary, demanding that they be allowed to keep their current jobs, their current pay rates, and their current union contract. Mary refuses. Students and workers have meeting in the Bridge to plan collaborative actions.

March 10: Delegation of workers and students deliver petition with over half the student body’s signatures as well as photo petition from workers to Mary’s office. She refuses to see them. Neither workers nor students hear anything from Mary for over a week.

Week of March 21: Open letter from Dining Workers to Mary McEneany is sent to Mary and posted widely around campus. Workers meet with acting President of the College Eva Rueschmann with no tangible results. Students and workers meet to begin planning next steps. Mary finally sends response to workers after their petition delivery more than 10 days earlier.  

March 28: Mary sends email to Hampshire Community to “clarify information regarding new food service operation.”

March 29: Select group of students are brought to a tasting for the new vendor. Up to this point, the name of the vendor has not been shared with any students and this is the first involvement students have had in the RFP process.

March 29: Student <-> Worker Solidarity Network shares a response to Mary’s 3/28 email to the Community. In it, they make it clear that they are not content with her vague promises regarding the transition and that they are ready for more open dialogue, transparency, and inclusion in this process.
April 1: Over 150 Students march to Mary’s office and at least 60 stage sit-in.

Response to Mary’s Email on 3/28

We understand that many of you have questions regarding the email sent out yesterday to the Hampshire community by Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Mary McEneany. This letter uses the language of social responsibility without making firm commitments to fulfill that responsibility. It touches on, but does not resolve, the core concerns of the workers, their union representatives, or the Student Worker Solidarity Network.

We demand that our current workers are guaranteed their jobs, wages, benefits, and union status during the transition to a new provider. Under the plan that this letter outlines, our current workers, including people who have been a part of our community for decades, lose any sense of job security. We spoke with one worker who doesn’t know if he will be able to live in Northampton anymore. Will he still have a job next year? Will he have to move back in with his parents? As students we have to try to understand this transition from the perspective of a worker. What does it feel like when your future is upended?

Workers who have been with Hampshire for decades (Annie just reached 40 years at Hampshire a few weeks ago) and are finally earning a living wage (~$20/hr) would likely return to starting wages if rehired. Imagine being in your fifties, with a mortgage and kids to support and then having your income halved. Imagine giving your life to one community, and then being forced to reapply and start over. That’s what this new deal would do. The workers are not interested in vague language around “hiring preference.” “Hiring preference” is not a guarantee of continued employment and we will not treat it as such.

We demand transparency in this process. This letter does not address the fact that students have been given next to no opportunity to be a part of this process. Even if this message had addressed our concerns, the fact remains that there has not been clear and open communication between Mary McEneany and the workers or the student body. Bridge workers found out that they might be losing their jobs in an email that wasn’t even addressed to them. Perhaps she would not have to send out an email addressing supposed misinformation if her process and decision-making hadn’t happened behind closed doors. Our opposition to the new food service operation proposal is grounded in all of the available information. We have not been told who was bidding to become our new food service provider for the Kern Center and the Bridge Cafe or whether a decision has already been made. The entire process has been characterized by secrecy, lack of student input, and absolutely no accountability.

It is important to recognize the long history of labor movements. Bosses have always tried to dissolve attempts by workers to come together because unionized workers stand up for themselves. Promises that the needs of workers will be taken into consideration are insufficient when people’s livelihoods are at stake. Only a signed agreement can guarantee that the workers of Hampshire College are secure in their current positions, with their currents benefits and salaries, and with their current union. Union-busting has a long history on college campuses, including Hampshire. These practices that make workers insecure in their jobs go against our values as a college, and as a community. In her letter, Mary states that if the Bridge workers want a union contract in the future, they will not be obstructed, but the workers have made it extremely clear that they have already built a union.

What is the point of a union if the college can simply fire all the workers, and then rehire them without a union? This is disloyal, irresponsible, and unethical business practice and cannot be tolerated as long as we hold ourselves up as an institution dedicated to social justice. The workers have already voted for a union. It is not up to the college to annul that decision.

We should be clear that we fully support and are excited about the switch to a new vendor. But Mary has said herself that maintaining the union contract and keeping the workers would not threaten this transition.

If you would like to discuss this further, please come to the planning meeting on Wednesday at 6:30 in the Centrum Gallery (Donut 1) or contact Forrest (fjj13), Asa (awn14), Jake (pjb12), Hannah (hl15), or Rosalinda (romc12) if you can’t make it at that time.

From the Bon Appetit Workers

Open Letter to Mary McEneany, the Chief Financial Officer of Hampshire College, From Bon Appetit Workers

March 22, 2016 Dear Mary,

We are writing in response to your email regarding an upcoming transition in Hampshire’s food system. This email introduced a shift from Bon Appetit 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 re­hired. Should we be re­hired, 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 off­campus catering company. This would result in significant work reductions and layoffs, with the work being outsourced to lower­paid, nonunion, off­campus workers.

We have always considered ourselves part of the Hampshire community. Two years ago, we won our union with 96% 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 truly be sustainable, workers should have access to full­time work, with the ability to provide for our families and play contributing roles in our communities. A transition toward part­time, non­union 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 into 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 responsibility in context. Even with our union contract, the average Bon Appetit worker earns roughly $21,000 per year, making us your lowest­-paid employees on campus by over 60%. (1) 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 a broader discussion of labor in this country.

Over the last year, as the U.S. continues its 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 Appetit, The Bridge Cafe was named A​nnie’s Cafe,​ 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 this 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 in the transition to Bon Appetit. 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 Vorspan­Stein, Vice President Local 164, Hampshire College UNITE HERE NEJB, at jonahsvs@gmail.com

Sincerely,

Executive Board of Hampshire College Local 164, UNITE HERE NEJB

(1)”Hampshire College Staff Salaries ­ Chronicle Data.” C​hronicle Data.​The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2015. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.