Megan ZerezMercury Staff
POSTEDApril 16, 2019
After a months-long organizing effort, some Chartwells workers will be able to participate in a May 2 election to determine whether they want to be represented in collective bargaining by local chapter 1000 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Student and temporary workers will not be able to participate in the election, said Anthony Elmo, a spokesperson for UFCW.
“Our goal is to bargain with the company to include the student workers, but at (Chartwells’) demands right now, in order to have the election at all, the students were excluded,” Elmo said.
For the May 2 election, UFCW estimates there are 120-140 part-time and full-time workers who will comprise the “bargaining unit,” or the group of workers eligible to participate. Chartwells will compile a list of all eligible workers ahead of the election.
“The Company respects our employees right to make an informed decision to choose in accordance with the National Labor Relations Act,” Steven Goodwin, the resident district manager for Chartwells, said in an emailed statement. Goodwin did not respond to questions regarding the exclusion of students from the election.
The election will be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, the government agency that enforces labor law and collective bargaining. Eligible workers will be able to vote via secret ballot in several locations on campus.
If at least 50% of the bargaining unit votes in favor of unionization, Chartwells must recognize the union as a collective bargaining entity. Workers will then select a committee of their peers to lead the negotiations process with Chartwells and draft a union contract.
UFCW organizers will aid the workers in this process, but the contract terms — and union dues — are ultimately the purview of the workers, Elmo said.
The workers hope to address issues such as wages, parking and uniform costs and also guarantee recall and seniority rights, according to an April 15 UFCW press release. Elmo said dues and any other fees will be determined by the workers themselves in the union contract.
“Folks spreading rumors about union dues don’t really understand anything about unions … or how they work,” Elmo said. “This is a union that really believes in the democracy of the workers.”
If the vote passes in favor of unionization, workers can choose to join or leave the union at any time, Elmo said.
“Because Texas is what’s commonly referred to as a right-to-work state, nobody in the state can be forced to join a union,” Elmo said. “If the union works with them to develop a contract and they don’t like it, they can vote against it and choose not to join the union.”
Elmo said the whole workforce — including students — can often benefit tangentially from union representation, even if they can’t participate in the initial election.
Former student worker and incoming Student Government president, Ayoub Mohammed, ran on the Labor ticket, which advocated for worker rights. In the last election, students elected nine out of 10 Labor candidates.
“I think it’s very exciting, as a former student worker,” Mohammed said. “If the current workers think this is what’s best for them and this is how they’re going to further … job security or just a better work environment in general, that is great.”
Mohammed said that despite the restriction on student workers, the election will be a step in the right direction.
“I think it’s disappointing, considering such a large number of students work there, but it is what it is, and honestly it’s not just the student workers who have their grievances — it’s (also) the full-time workers that don’t go to school here,” he said. “They have their issues as well and a lot of them have signed up in support of the union.”
Cristian Otero, a current part-time employee at Chartwells, said student workers should have a voice in the union.
“(Student workers) get paid less than anyone else, they’re often seen as expendable,” Otero said. “They have the worst working conditions.”
Otero has been involved in the effort to organize workers since last semester.
“It’s been a long time coming … I hope everyone votes yes,” Otero said. “People don’t really have a good livelihood (here) because they’re paid so low. Work is like 60-70% of your day — if it sucks, that impacts your whole day.”
ATEC junior Erin Bray is the president of UTD’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. The group headed an effort to organize students in support of Chartwells workers’ right to unionize. Bray said they were hopeful the election would bring benefits for both workers and UTD as a whole.
“I think if you have people who are paid well and treated well, we’re going to have fewer food problems,” Bray said. “But that’s just an auxiliary effect. We’re mainly out here for the workers.”