Student Labor Alliance: Reward Dining Services employees’ hard work

The University fails to provide health coverage to all Dining Services employees

By
Thursday, October 12, 2006

Brown University prides itself on its sense of community, one of the things that we love about this school. But in any community it is important to make sure that we take care of all our members, and that our resources are shared equitably among us all.

Brown Dining Services workers are an integral part of the Brown community. Without them, bread wouldn’t be baked, dishes wouldn’t be washed and banquets wouldn’t be served. But currently, Brown isn’t living up to the values on which it prides itself. The hard work of the Dining Services employees is not being rewarded.

We believe that all Dining Services workers at Brown should make wages that reflect the prosperity of this University and make it possible for them to meet their families’ needs. We believe that everyone should be able to visit a doctor whenever they need to. But right now, this isn’t the case. It is absurd that some of this wealthy institution’s hard-working food service employees are visiting food banks in order to eat, and cannot afford to go to the doctor. We are embarrassed to call ourselves members of this community when the administration allows this to happen.

Many Dining Services employees have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Richard is one of them. He’s been working full time as a dishwasher for over seven years and can’t take care of his family on the wages Brown pays him. He has a 1-year-old son and wants to be able to provide for him and send him to college. Richard knows how tough it is on children when their parents are working all the time; his father, Al, has worked at Brown for 23 years. When Richard was growing up, Al regularly put in 15 hours of overtime at Brown just to be able to support his family, and Richard missed having time with his dad. He doesn’t want the same thing for his son.

You’ve probably met Violanta as she’s swiped you into the Ratty. She too works full time at Brown, and on top of that she works another 15 hours as an at-home aid with the disabled. Violanta does this to support her three kids, but she hardly gets to see them. Her 13-year-old daughter tells her, “Mommy, don’t work so much,” but she has no choice if she wants to put food on the table and a roof over their heads with the wages Brown pays her.

Currently, over a third of Dining Services workers do not have access to affordable health care. And even though full time food service workers pay more for their health insurance than other Brown employees who make the same amount do, the University wants to further increase the amount Dining Services workers would have to pay.

The assistant food service workers have done the same job as other food service workers for years, but the administration refuses to give them the hours that make them eligible for health insurance. We encourage Brown to offer all Dining Services workers affordable health care immediately. The assistant food service workers have waited long enough for this wrong to be righted. Now it is time for they and their families to stop having to worry about being able to visit a doctor.

The banquet captains and the Faculty Club employees also do the same work for the same employer, but they do not have a voice on the job or a process for ensuring livable wages and fair benefits. We believe this is something all workers should have.

Brown is fortunate in that it has the ability to provide good jobs for all Dining Service workers. We have a $1.9 billion endowment, and are raising another $1.4 billion more with the Boldly Brown campaign. If President Ruth Simmons can get a 19 percent raise this year, it’s not too much to ask to make sure all Dining Services workers make enough money to support their families.

The Dining Services workers’ contract expires today at midnight. We call on the University to live up to the values of community that make Brown the great institution that it is, and agree to livable wages and affordable health care for all Dining Service workers, ensuring that all members of this community are taken care of. As members of the Student Labor Alliance, we stand in full support of the Dining Services workers. On Labor Day, over 500 students, Dining Services workers and community supporters poured into the streets. Two weeks ago, a delegation of 30 students presented Simmons with over 400 student signatures collected in a period of two days. Last Friday we visited a Brown Corporation dinner and one of our members gave a rousing – if abruptly cut off – speech. And yesterday we marched again, students and workers together.

As students, we believe we have a responsibility to the people who feed us. If the administration won’t agree to reward the hard work of the Dining Services workers, we will continue to do everything we can to support the workers.

We encourage you to e-mail or call Simmons and let her know that all Dining Service workers deserve affordable quality health care, livable wages and a voice on the job.

Madeleine Anderson ‘06.5Baird Bream ’10Alex Campbell ’10William Emmons ’09Diana Randall ’10Heather Vail ’07Natan Zeichner ’07

The Student Labor Alliance invites interested students and community members to contact us at BrownSLA@gmail.com.