Aramark employees: Union Yes!

Food service workers in Aramark’s Food Court used their voting power on Thursday, coming out overwhelmingly in support of union representation. Forty-one of the 47 eligible employees cast their votes, with a final tally of 28 to 13. The only major group of campus employees not currently unionized, the employees will now be represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 75 (AFSCME).

On April 17, AFSCME filed a request with the National Labor Relations Board to represent the employees, which includes all Portland State Aramark workers with the exception of clerical workers, supervisory staff and “casual” employees who work less than 12 hours per week.

Debra Kidney, the AFSCME organizer who ran this campaign, is pleased with the turnout and the vote. “Even 18 hours later I am very excited,” she said on Friday. Aramark representatives were unavailable for comment.

“We ran a good, clean election, worked very hard, the employees stuck together and supported each other, and with a more than two to one win, spoke,” Kidney said.

After the election, Kidney stated that she had anticipated the employees’ support for union representation, but that the wide margin was exciting and a little shocking for everyone.

“I think Aramark greatly underestimated their employees and were very surprised that they not only lost, but by such a wide margin,” she said.

After the election the National Labor Relations Board reminded both Aramark and AFSCME that both parties have the option of filing objections within 14 days of the vote. According to Kidney, Richard Buntele, an Aramark Labor Relations Director from Michigan, was emphatic in his statement that Aramark would be filing objections.

“We do not know what their objections will be,” Kidney said. “except that they are bogus, and are most likely an attempt to delay bargaining for a contract.” According to Kidney, AFSCME will not file objections, so as soon as objections from Aramark are filed and resolved, the bargaining process will be opened.

From here, the employees will begin the process of selecting bargaining representatives from their own groups. Once the bargaining representatives are elected, they will begin discussions with fellow employees meant to discover what employees are looking for in a union contract.

The bargaining team will then begin working with the AFSCME negotiator, putting together proposals to be introduced at the bargaining table with Aramark.

Some of the issues employees would like to see addressed include fare and equitable wages and wage increases, more affordable health care, understaffing and sick time. Many employees, such as David and Neile Samson, hope that the union will give employees what they have been unable to use on their own: a voice.

David Samson said he is hoping unionization will create “an open and ethical dialogue with employees,” and he said he is optimistic that will happen with AFSCME.

Although it is impossible to determine how long contract negotiations will go on, Kidney is anxious to get to work: “We’d like to get this all started in the next month, but we’ll see if Aramark actually follows through with their objections.”