Union Protests, UO Halts Plan to Slash Workers’ Meal Benefit

The university recently halted its plan to take away an important bene t for food service workers—their free meals. UO Director of Employee and Labor Rela- tions Wes Fowler explained the decision in a June 10 email. After union members voiced their concerns, the university decided against charging employees—including student workers—for their one free meal per shift and reducing the meal discounts of other housing employees come September. It plans to raise the issue again during January, the next bargaining opportunity.

“That is a positive for us,” Bob James said. James is currently a food service worker for Big Mouth Burrito in Hamilton Hall. He began working for the university 22 years ago. “I’m still concerned about the students that are front line workers that are going to be impacted by this meal plan, and how that’s gonna impact the front line university workers, the full-timers. Are we going to have enough help to be able to carry out our duties?”

During two days, union members gathered more than 300 signatures and sent a petition May 13 to university administrators. They asked the university to halt the plan, because it is a violation of the contract be- tween Oregon universities and the workers represented by Service Employees International Union 503. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, all negotiations of employee compensation should only occur during scheduled bargaining.

If the plan is implemented, people who work with University Housing will lose their free meals, and their meal discounts are to decrease. e plan amounted to a reduction of compensation—$3 per shift for food service workers and $1 per shift for other housing employees. Free meals and discounts are considered when wages and other forms of compensation are set during regular bargaining between the university system and SEIU 503.

Members gather before meeting with admin to review proposed meal costs.

Members gather before meeting with admin to review proposed meal costs.

People who work with UO Housing and dozens of union members whose compensation was not directly at stake voiced their opposition to the proposal during meetings with department administrators. They pointed out that our contract contains a special provision which defines the meal benefit that food service workers at Oregon State University receive. If the UO wants to begin charging its housing employees more for their meals, our members told UO representatives it will need to bargain the issue just like OSU did. They told Housing Director Michael Griffel that people rely on that benefit, and the take-away is economically painful and harmful to the mo- rale of workers.

After he heard news of Provost Scott Coltrane’s plan to retire and the amount of his most recently publicized salary, James said it underscores the inequity in the university’s approach to cost-cutting.

“What is wrong with this picture when the number two man at the UO gets $370,000 a year and nobody blinks an eye, but yet, management looks at the front line workers at the U of O getting a meal as a problem to be solved?” James said. ” They need our $3 a day, yet nobody says a word about the provost making $370,000 a year.” According to the most recent report from the UO, Provost Coltrane made $377,235 per year plus a $9,300 “car allowance” stipend.

SEIU 085 President Theodora Ko Thompson views the university’s decision to delay the changes to the meal benefits of housing workers as a win.

“Thanks to all who contributed to the effort, spread the word, signed the petition and joined the meetings, provided input and perspective explaining why the imposition of the proposal was wrong,” Thompson said. “It was wonderful and inspiring to see how quickly we galvanized ourselves and presented a united stance, the show of support that demonstrated that we cared for each other and for students who worked alongside our sisters and brothers. Our collective effort mattered and made a difference!”

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SEIU Local 085