With school back in session, students are working overtime to complete their assignments, but not as much overtime as the SRU food workers.
In the first two weeks of the semester, the SRU Aramark employees have labored through being understaffed by 23 people and have 11 pages of overtime hanging. If conditions don’t change, a strike is inevitable.
“Union members have unanimously authorized a strike,” Sam Williamson, SEIU 32BJ district leader for Western Pennsylvania, said. “If the bargaining committee feels that a strike and withholding the labor of the union members is warranted, they may pursue that course of action as well.”
The employees’ demands are simple: Competitive wages and affordable healthcare.
“We’re not asking for anything outlandish,” Dorothy Kriebel, an SRU food employee, said. “I don’t think $17 an hour is out of realm.”
Wages for these employees are currently as low as $14.25, Williamson said.
Kim, an employee at Weisenfluh Hall, makes $17 an hour after 40 years. The temporary employees Aramark is hiring are starting at $20.
The union bargaining committee has not yet received any wage increase offers from Aramark for SRU workers.
“We had heard from our union that they (Aramark) were not willing to increase our wages,” Kriebel said, “and they wanted to raise our health insurance, which is totally unacceptable in today’s economy.”
“In addition to living wages,” Williamson said, “the only healthcare plans that are available to SRU workers through Aramark have incredibly high deductibles (as high as $2,250 annually) or are simply unaffordable for SRU employees contracted with Aramark.”
So far, the union and Aramark have met only once despite the contract expiring on June 30, 2022. The union took things into its own hands by calling a meeting with the SRU employees on Aug. 17 after Aramark wouldn’t talk.
Communications are so mixed up that the union said Aramark canceled, and Aramark said the union canceled.
At the meeting, they conducted an anonymous survey to see if employees were in favor of a strike. Those present unanimously voted yes.
The employees’ next step was to hand out flyers and make the college aware, Krieibel said. This got Aramark’s attention, and they will meet with the union bargaining committee on Sept. 7 and 8.
“If significant progress is not made during those meetings,” Williamson said, “union members have unanimously authorized the union’s bargaining committee to call for a strike.”
Even with two meetings scheduled, there is no timeline for how long the negotiations will take. The union is dedicated to securing the wages and benefits that its members deserve.
“We look forward to them coming to the table and continuing to bargain this contract with us,” Williamson said.
The union chose not to share details of the negotiations with Aramark until there is a new contract.
Students can advocate for their food workers by contacting Aramark and the SRU administration to encourage them to care for their employees, who care for their students.