Workers losing out with UMass Dining policy

By Benjamin Walton

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(Justin Surgent/Collegian File Photo)

(Justin Surgent/Collegian File Photo)

You can find the full version, “UMass Amherst Dining: Waste, Mismanagement, and The Princeton Review” from which this column was excerpted and edited on the author’s WordPress blog.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME (Local 1776) is the union that bargains for University of Massachusetts Dining employees. Dining employees are assigned categories: “01,” “03,” and “student hire.” The 01s and 03s are unionized and have AFSCME negotiating for them.

Today, 01s at UMass are unionized with contracts and have access to benefits. The 03 workers are unionized without contracts, have no benefits and seemingly endless bargaining has resulted in the administration’s refusal to raise wages. Student hires cannot unionize.

The 01/03 distinction

The 01 employees are full-time under contract, and consequently receive retirement benefits, sick time, group insurance, industrial accident coverage and vacation time.

The 03s are meant to be “seasonal hires” and receive no benefits or bargaining power because of the supposed turnover. They have no contracts, are paid from a money pool separate from the main pool and are referred to as “non-employees,” hired for what UMass determines to be “contractual service.” Most significantly, 03s are temporary hires, as is explicitly outlined in the Campus 03 Policy.

Student hires are undergraduates, start at minimum wage and are not allowed to unionize.

In practice, however, this dynamic does not play out. Instead, the vast majority of 03s work full-time for years, but never receive 01 status and thus lack access to crucial benefits. This is not a short-term arrangement; many 03s have been working for UMass Dining for five or 10 years.

UMass Dining fires and rehires these workers every season, year after year. By any other definition, these employees are full-time and entitled to union benefits, but the University continues to deny them job security and access to benefits. The pervading bargaining stalemate is unacceptable and the employees deserve more from a multi-million dollar employer.

The lack of 03 benefits is not incidental. A long-time 03 was recently forced to pay out-of-pocket for expensive, necessary dental surgery because he lacked benefits. Long-time UMass chefs, integral in various dining operations, struggle daily to justify their immense amount of work for mere 03 status with hourly wages. A working single mother has no guaranteed healthcare, is can’t take sick days and loses money over holidays. Thus, she is forced to work nonstop to afford food and childcare.

[03s] vs. The UMass Board of Trustees (1979)

On Jan. 4, 1979, The Board of Trustees of UMass and the University were taken to court by 20 laborers stuck in 03 limbo. Then Justice of the Superior Court Department Joseph Ford signed a decision of sweeping oversight and broad restrictions on the management of 03 workers. The 20 plaintiffs were moved to 01 status and paid significant retroactive sums. “Section X: Future Use of 03 Funding” strongly asserts that UMass must expand oversight. This policy nominally requires that 03 workers truly be temporary (meaning no more than one year), all 03 appointments be subject to personnel office review board and that UMass make “good faith efforts” to put 03s in a higher classification within a year.

This decision lays out explicit instructions for the University to expand oversight and establish mechanisms ensuring that long-term employees are not stuck without benefits. The case resulted in the establishment of the aforementioned Campus 03 Policy (dated July 1, 1984), but the University has been entirely unwilling to keep the definition of 03 narrow. The aforementioned “personnel office review board” does not exist and 03s continue to be employed for extended periods without access to benefits.

At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, dining halls fired 10 03s one month early to save money. All workers depend on payment through their employment periods; this minimal job security is important for 01s and “non-employees” alike. But without union contracts, the University is free to fire hard-working employees early, leaving them without work unexpectedly.

These problems are systemic and long-standing. According to long-time employees, union representatives and former students, the vast majority of 03s work long-term, and that same majority is personally disadvantaged without access to benefits. The 03 designation is a seasonal position in name only; its working function is to deny full-time workers union rights.

The demographic of the employee pool is also troubling. An estimated 90 percent of 03s are women or people of color. By withholding workplace rights for 03s, UMass actively disadvantages people who are systematically disadvantaged in all walks of life. UMass trumpets diversity as a cornerstone value, but the administration drags its feet in contract negotiations that would directly benefit the underrepresented people who carry the well-being of Auxiliary Enterprises on their backs.

Student hires and the right to unionize

Many argue that unionizing undergraduates is hopeless because of the turnover. Students frequently come in and out of the system, graduate and cannot be student hires more than a couple of years. But undergraduate resident assistants (RAs) unionized and they have since seen significant wage increases. There is no reason that other groups cannot follow in step.

Student workers pushing for unionization point to their impact on the school; indeed, student workers help run the library, secure the dorms and cook food for thousands of people every day. With average student loan debt at an all-time high of about $30,000 per student, it’s incomprehensible that student hires start at a meager $8 an hour.

Furthermore, internal raises are sluggish and uncommon. One student worked in the same UMass Dining building for 11 months before his supervisor gave him a raise (reportedly out of pity and frustration with institutional inefficiency). Now making a whopping $9 an hour, the former student called the wage “lucky.” But even $9 an hour is insufficient in the face of rent, food costs and $30,000 in debt. Students sacrifice time from their academics to do jobs crucial to the University’s function, but earn low wages and have no voice in workplace malpractice.

Benjamin Walton is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]