Updated in print and online, 1/21
An agreement over the contracts of the Faculty House employees has still not yet been reached, despite repeated attempts from the workers to strike a deal with administrators since last March—and the Student-Worker Solidarity group is looking to change that.
Since the beginning of December, SWS has been meeting with Faculty House workers and Labor Relations administrators to discuss what they consider unfair contracts in preparation for the next negotiation meeting, scheduled for Jan. 23.
The points of contention in the negotiations include the withholding of a 22 percent gratuity, little to no wage increases compared to those of other unions on campus, and the lack of unemployment benefits for laid-off workers during summer and winter breaks.
On Jan. 10, members of SWS delivered a petition to Jeff Scott, executive vice president of student and administrative services, demanding fair and transparent contract negotiations for Faculty House workers after SWS members George Joseph, CC ’16, and Jane Brennan, CC ’14, were denied access to December’s negotiations.
Joseph and Brennan met with Vice President of Campus Services Scott Wright on Dec. 6, a day before negotiations were scheduled to begin, to discuss the contracts of Faculty House workers, which they said do not afford workers a livable wage and inappropriately classify workers as part-time, even when some work up to 80 hours per week.
Wright “completely agreed with us and he promised us that he would go to negotiations and fix the situation,” Joseph said. “But I guess he didn’t really intend on acting.”
Joseph said that Sheila Garvey, assistant vice president of labor relations, “immediately began yelling, demanding to know if we were students” after she saw him and Brennan at the meeting, and said that Garvey refused to begin negotiations while the students were present.
Not wanting to deter possible amendments to the contract, Brennan said that she and Joseph decided to leave the meeting.
Wright and Garvey did not respond to requests for comment.
Disappointed with the response from Columbia administrators, SWS members and a group of Faculty House workers went to Scott’s office on Dec. 20 to present their grievances but were unable to speak to him.
“His secretary was there and said, ‘I think I know why you guys are here.’ Then this big guy, grayish hair, put his head down and power-walked through the room with his briefcase in hand, almost running through the halls, and everyone’s like, ‘Wait, that’s Jeff Scott,’” Joseph said. “It was a crazy scene, seeing 25 workers running after him.”
“There really was no back-and-forth,” Brennan said of the SWS’s interaction with Scott. “It’s why we sent him the petition: to respond and take a stance on what we had talked to him about.”
‘Looking for something better’
According to Faculty House workers, their salaries have not increased by more than $1 in eight years.
The only contract listed for Local 100, the union that represents the Faculty House workers, states that from 2001 to 2004, salaries increased by 2 percent each year. Columbia’s current offer consists of a $200 lump sum for the first year, a 1 percent increase the second and 0 percent the third year.
In contrast, the contract for Local 2110, which represents technical, office and professional workers, received a 17 percent salary increase over five years, starting in 2007. Local 241, serving maintenance and custodial employees, received a 16.5 percent increase over five years, starting in 2008. Local 1199, serving cafeteria and clerical positions, saw a rise of 9 percent over three years from 2006-2009.
Osmond Cousins, a Faculty House chef who has worked there for over 18 years, said that he has sent letters to various administrators, including one to University President Lee Bollinger, but never received any responses.
“We’re concerned about money in our pockets—we’re looking for something better,” he said.
According to Cousins, the Faculty House workers are among the lowest paid. Workers are paid each week in accordance with seniority, with new hires receiving a starting salary of $13.50 per hour.
Workers also said that they were upset that the University instituted a service charge without telling them.
Before the 1996 contract, Faculty House workers received a 15 percent gratuity. But a provision added to that contract got rid of the 15 percent tip and instead included a 22 percent service charge.
Workers and the SWS claim this was a deliberately misleading way to withhold tips from the workers, since clients are told gratuity is included in their bill but would only know it is not destined for the workers after reading their contract.
In addition, workers are laid off summer and winter months during University breaks, which amounts to almost five months of unemployment each year.
Juan Aquino, a single father and caterer for Faculty House who has worked there for 25 years, said that he had to work overtime hours to make ends meet.
“For me to earn the same amount of money the person across campus makes in 40 hours, I have to work up to 80, 90 hours a week,” Aquino said. “Some can say, ‘I’m done here, I’m gonna get another job.’ Not me.”
‘We’re not going to settle’
During layoff season, workers are not paid unemployment benefits because of a 1983 amendment to the state Unemployment Insurance Law.
Instead, full-time workers are given a $200 weekly stipend for the summer, which is “reduced by one-fifth for each day worked” during layoff season, as per the contract.
The type of employment offered at the time of a worker’s initial hiring assigns full and part-time classification, but it is independent from the years a worker has stayed in Faculty House or his or her weekly hours.
“If I worked today, I would get $40 taken off and be paid by the hour,” Aquino said. “It’s not supposed to be that way—they should add that money on top of the layoff money.”
Previously, workers received a stipend of only $150, which, according to Cousins, stems from a 1983-old clause in which minimum wage was $3.35.
Faculty House workers received an increase due to a stipulation in their contract that requires their stipend to rise with Dining Services’.
But Cousins and Aquino said that part-time workers are paid half of the stipend, regardless of what the contract says.
The petition that the SWS issued on Jan. 10 demanded that workers and students be permitted to attend future negotiations and called for Scott to attend the meetings. It accrued more than 100 signatures in fewer than 48 hours.
Leonard Cox, assistant vice president of communications for student and administrative services, said that the University does not comment on ongoing labor negotiations.
In response, SWS issued a statement that said, “Columbia University’s outright refusal for transparent negotiations is unacceptable and leaves no doubt that the University has something to hide.”
As part of a weeklong protest, SWS members will hold a rally outside Faculty House during negotiations Wednesday and a “teach-in” led by Faculty House workers on Thursday to discuss their working conditions and provide a space for students to ask questions.
Faculty House workers said that they were grateful to the students who have spoken out on their behalf and that they are hopeful that they can still reach an agreement before their contract expires in March.
“It’s overwhelmingly emotional, how students having no business getting involved in this are so passionate,” Cousins said. “We’re not going to settle under any circumstances for what’s on the table—something has to happen.”