In response to increasing pressure from student and worker groups culminating in a planned candlelight vigil in front of Chancellor Michael Drake’s house on Jan. 26, UC Irvine administrators have determined to employ campus food service workers directly, and to offer them the same benefits as other UC employees.
Details of the agreement between workers and administrators are yet to be finalized, but it is likely that the change will come at an increased cost to students.
‘I believe it is an appropriate change,’ said Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Daniel Dooros. ‘However, people must understand that just as garments produced from a union shop are more costly than those produced in a nonunion shop, food prepared by union workers will cost more to produce. There is a cost [for] social justice. I would argue it’s a worthwhile cost.’
Although Dooros declined to discuss specifics about the change, since negotiations are ongoing, on March 14, he made a presentation to the Associated Students of UCI, during which he spoke about the possible costs associated with bringing the workers in-house.
It is estimated that about 170 employees will be affected by the move. Depending on their situations, it will cost between $8,000 and $12,000 annually to bring each worker in-house. The total financial impact on the university will be about $1.7 million each year.
The Aramark workers who operate the on-campus dining and food facilities will be required to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 labor union once contract terms are finalized.
Aramark will have a continued presence on campus for several reasons, according to Dooros, not least of which is the $3 million given by Aramark toward the cost of the Student Center reconstruction.
Altogether, Aramark’s contribution to the building fund has brought construction costs down from $57 million to $54 million.
Aramark also offers other benefits to students that UCI cannot, according to Dooros.
‘Aramark brings concept development,’ Dooros said. ‘They bring dieticians and chefs and efficiencies that we don’t bring.’
When the Student Center food court reopens, not all employees will be unionized. Wendy’s and Rice Garden will be independently operated, and will not be affected by current negotiations.
Both Wendy’s and Rice Garden ranked ‘exceedingly high’ in student satisfaction surveys, according to Dooros. Wendy’s was popular among students for its 99-cent value menu, which would not be possible if employees were unionized.
‘It’s hard to pay someone serving at Wendy’s more than $30,000 and still have a value menu,’ Dooros said.
Employees of Commercial Landscaping Services, who provide groundskeeping services at UCI, have not yet been promised direct employment by the school, which has frustrated some students, who feel that their struggle is only half-over.
According to fifth-year sociology and English double major Fernando Chirino who, last October, was a co-author of a report about worker conditions at UCI, the school has committed to directly employing the CLS workers, but has failed to set a date for when the insourcing will actually occur. Another rally on behalf of the CLS workers will be held on April 24.
Still, Chirino is heartened by the progress that has been made.
‘The impact of this movement has been completely positive and very encouraging,’ Chirino said. ‘It is my heartfelt belief that the sheer guts, intelligence and heart that these workers and student leaders have shown throughout the struggle will inspire and form the foundation for future political work and organizing at UCI.’
‘I think the decision to inhouse Aramark workers is very positive,’ said Carlos Feliciano, president of the Associated Students of UCI. ‘It’s going to affect a lot of workers and their families, and we’re happy to see the university doing the right thing.’
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