For Immediate Release: Monday, May 4
Contact: Hannah Schmitt (919) 667-7311
STATE UNIVERSITY FOOD SERVICE WORKERS DEMAND EQUAL TREATMENT AS SYSTEM OFFERS GUARANTEES TO OTHERS
Workers demand guarantees around pay and healthcare as COVID-19 crisis casts uncertainty on fall semester
In a press roundtable Monday, May 4, state university food service workers advocated for equal treatment as universities consider whether to reopen in the fall. Workers demanded guarantees around pay and healthcare for the fall semester, decrying the university’s approach as a double standard in which direct employees have received adequate communication and job security whereas food service workers have not, plunging their livelihoods into precarity in the heart of a global pandemic. Workers expressed outrage and sadness at such unequal treatment from the communities in which many of them have lived and worked for years, emphasizing that they are equally central to campus life as other workers and deserve the same guarantees, which will have critical stakes for their ability to survive the COVID-19 crisis in the months to come.
“Nobody seems to be paying any attention to us,” said Patricia deCastro, a food service worker at Western Connecticut State University, which contracts with Sodexo. “The school doesn’t run without us. Kids come to this school and look to us because they need somebody to talk to, because their parents are far away. We’re a big, vital part of the running of these universities. We need to know we’re being treated as equal.”
“I know all the students that come on campus,” said Pamela Gray, a food service worker of 29 years at Southern Connecticut State University, which contracts with Compass. “We hug all the time; we’re like a family. I’m a part of the community. I just had a heart and kidney transplant, and if I get my health insurance cut off in August, it will be difficult for me to get my medication. I don’t want to end up on dialysis again. The thing we want from the university is respect. We deserve respect just as much as the other workers.”
Francesco Petraccone, a food service worker and former student at Central Connecticut State University, also highlighted unequal treatment as an issue of respect.
“Everybody else that works at the university has much more job security and reassurance that they’ll be okay than us,” he said. “I found out that our layoff would be extended through August through a student email. To me that was shocking. They just forgot about us. We deserve respect.”
Workers have sought information from both universities and the food service companies that subcontract them. Local 217 President and lead cook at Eastern Connecticut State University Ken Blair also sent a letter to the regents asking for dialogue and seeking guarantees about the fall, but the regents delegated his letter to a labor relations associate, who told him the state universities have no employment relationship with the cafeteria workers, and that he should not contact the regents again.
“The regents and other university leaders, like President Ojakian, hire the food subcontractors and administer the funds for their contracts,” Blair said. “To claim they have no say in the matter is absurd, and to say I can’t contact public officials is flat out wrong.”
Blair also emphasized the importance of food service workers to the university community.
“We make relationships with the kids,” he said. “We see them more than professors do. On snow days, we’re essential. We’re the ones who have to go in and feed those kids. We’re part of the community, and we need to be treated as equal to the other people that are working there.”