Manhattan College cafeteria workers regain lost jobs

By JEANETTE SETTEMBRE

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board said that Gourmet Dining Services, the food service vendor at Manhattan College must agree to hire all former Sodexo employees as of Wednesday, February 29. Sodexo was replaced as the College’s vendor last year.

“I can confirm that there was a charge filed on the basis of a discriminatory hiring practice,” Regional Attorney for the NLRB, David Leach said Friday.

Back in May, Gourmet told former Sodexo employees that they could reapply for their jobs at a job fair with no guarantee of employment. Those few who were eventually hired were of-fered significantly lower wages under the new dining service.

According to Leach, when a new company takes over, they are obligated to bargain with the former union if the majority of the workers are kept on. Because only 20 out of the 80 So-dexo employees were hired, their previous union, Unite Here, was soon replaced by the Internation-al Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a construc-tion union selected by Gourmet, to represent the current food service staff.

After being dismissed, representatives from Unite Here went to the NLRB claiming that Gourmet violated federal employment law by not hiring the former employees and bringing in a union that was not of the current workers’ choice.

Instead of directly pursuing a trial, the NLRB gave Gourmet the option to rehire former Sodexo employees, compensating them with six months of lost pay and ben-efits from May 31, and also have the Unite Here union re-sume its representation. If the parties are unable to resolve the issue, a trial will be held before a judge as to whether or not there was a viola-tion. Failure to comply could result in criminal charges against Gourmet Dining Services.

Gourmet General Manger, Anthony Frungil-lo, verified that the dining service was using both an internal legal counsel as well as an outside law firm. “We’re still in negotiations right now. Nothing is finalized yet,” Frungillo said Friday afternoon.

Although the college is free to sign a con-tract with any agency, there has been a tradition that the workers from the old company continue to work for the new one.

Vice President for Finance and Capital Proj-ects, Thomas Ryan, who negotiated Gourmet’s contract claimed to have been unaware of the conflict. “Manhattan is impartial and uninvolved in the legal matter,” he said.

President Brennan O’Donnell was unable to be reached for comment.

Religious Studies professor and Director of the Labor Studies Program, Dr. Joseph Fahey said, “Gourmet may be legally responsible, but Manhattan is morally responsible” using princi-ples of Catholic Social Teaching as precedent.

Senior James Splendore helped organize students to join the Unite Here rally this past fall. “It seems that Manhat-tan College and Gourmet Dining were acting in their best economic interest throughout this process, at the expense of sensible social action,” Splendore said.

Leach assured, “The investigation is under control. There have been some decisions made by the regional di-rector, Karen Fernbach, giving the parties time to attempt to resolve the issue without any further litigation.”

As for back pay and restored benefits, Leach confirmed Monday that, “the workers are entitled to what they would have earned have they not been discriminated against. They just should have known better,” Fahey said in re-gard to Gourmet Dining Services.

“The good news is the parties came to a resolution,” Leach said. Although the issue is still under consideration, it was confirmed that a training period will begin March 12 for the former Sodexo employees, and they will resume work following the spring recess on March 19.

“I think that justice has definitely been served. We as students saw an opportunity to stand up for those in need of help in our community and luckily there were profes-sors and institutions (namely the NLRB) that facilitated that process. Hopefully this victory can inspire other students to stand up when they see injustice. It will be an uplifting mo-ment when I see these men and women back on campus,” Splendore said.

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