MSU food services workers looking for better treatment through union representation

Food service workers at Morehead State University will be voting Wednesday on whether to be represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The vote comes after an organizing drive during which 70 of about 100 full-time workers signed union cards. The workers are employees of Aramark, which has the food service contract at the school.

But since then Aramark – apparently with university officials keeping hands off – has brought in “a consultant for the union-busting blitz,” said Rowan chapter member John Hennen. “All employees have received flyers and letters with the usual half-truths and outright lies common to the corporate assault against workers daring to speak up for themselves.”

In a statement, Aramark said it is neither pro-or anti-union but prefers that its employees deal directly with the company.

Workers have a number of concerns that led to the union drive, including:
•    exposure to toxic chemicals (cleaning fluids) without proper training,
•    lack of respect
•    not enough overall job training
•    insufficient wages.

“People consistently have brought their concerns and issues to management and consistently they have been ignored,” said Cody Montgomery, a KFTC member and full-time cook told the Morehead News. “The union is a tool for the employees to use to ensure that we are treated with dignity and respect.”

There will be a rally on Tuesday to suport the workers on the eve of their vote. It will take place in the Adron Doran University Center between 12:30-1:30 p.m. There will be speeches and music.

Montgomery said that he was the last person to sign an interest card but has now become one of the leading members of a core group of employees.

“There is a man who has worked here for 10 years and his pay is capped at $8.25 per hour, a woman who has worked here for 15 years and is capped at $10.25 per hour, and when I negotiated for my pay as a lead cook I asked for $1 over the poverty line … which would be about $15 per hour and I was denied,” said Montgomery. “I also was not properly trained on how to use a degreaser chemical and inhaled fumes that damaged my lungs and caused blood clots and I asked to file an accident report multiple times and found that it was never filed when we requested OSHA records.”

The pay scale is such that many employees cannot afford the health insurance that the company offers. That’s important for Montgomery and his Lisa, his wife and the chapter’s representative on the KFTC Steering Committee, who are expecting their first child.

The Rowan County KFTC Chapter passed a resolution supporting workers’ right to organize, and members have assisted in collecting hundreds of faculty and student signatures supporting the workers’ rights.

“The outside support does validate what we are doing and legitimizes our concerns,” said Montgomery. “Knowing we are not alone means a lot and the students are what we are coming to work for. They are who we serve and what this institution is about so it means so much to have their support.”

“The company campaign has had some effect and many workers who signed cards are now scared,” wrote Hennen. “The organizing committee is putting together an impressive rapid response and educational structure for the campaign. If they win at Morehead State, this could set off a wave of food service organizing in the city and throughout eastern Kentucky.”

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