As Americans, we often claim to love democracy while simultaneously not practicing it in one of the most important parts of our lives — our workplace. In some cases, bosses can exercise almost autocratic control over our working lives with few checks on their power. Some on-campus employees know this better than most. Employees of Chartwells, UTD’s food provider, have accused the company of a number of heinous worker abuses and are beginning to unionize in response.
The list of Chartwells employee mistreatment allegations is a long one, including not receiving promised promotions, being given new responsibilities with no new pay, not being paid for up to six weeks after hire and not being able to see pay stubs to verify they were properly paid for the hours they worked. International student workers allege even worse treatment, including sexual harassment and far lower pay. Additionally, some workers claim they have no guarantee of employment after breaks and university closures. This is not how workers on our campus should be treated. Imagine waking up Jan. 14 worrying about whether UTD has allowed you to continue as a student or not.
For these reasons and more, Chartwells workers are looking to unionize. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1000 — a Dallas area union — has been working to help make this happen. Unions present a way to help bring democracy into the workplace. By voting on issues and collectively bargaining with employers, unions give employees a voice that they are frequently scared to otherwise exercise. Historically, union members have fought and — in many cases — died for rights we’re proud to exercise today, including things such as workplace safety requirements, the 40-hour work week and the civil rights acts. According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union members earn an average of 26 percent more money and are more likely to have complaints such as work instability or grievances addressed.
This is especially important for anyone who eats on campus. Many of us have seen the pictures of moldy food and poorly washed dishes. My freshman year, the “clear” glasses were often yellow. If “Kitchen Nightmares” has taught me anything, it’s that food and quality problems are almost always a result of management punishing employees who point out flaws or expect a semblance of respect. Want better food? Support the staff who serve you that food.
If you work at all, know your rights. The AFL-CIO Federation of Unions has an excellent guide to workplace rights available online. Also consider joining a union to help establish a more democratic workplace — one that protects your rights. And if you eat on campus, let the Chartwells employees know you support them and that they deserve a more democratic workplace that doesn’t put profit over their workers’ and UTD students’ needs.