NU cafeteria workers claim mistreatment

By Kristen McCleary, News Correspondent

Cafeteria employees and supporters delivered a petition to Northeastern administrators Wednesday afternoon. News Photo/Chris Mullin

Northeastern’s dining hall workers took a stand against their employer Wednesday, marching to International Village (INV) and President Joseph Aoun’s office to deliver a petition and inform the administration of their plan to unionize.

Workers came together to demand change in a work place where they claim they are disrespected, unappreciated, harassed and underpaid by management at Chartwells, the food service company commissioned by Northeastern. The petition, written in five languages and signed by 293 workers – more than 72 percent of the entire dining hall staff – outlined their complaints and hopes for the future.

“We work in fear, in fear of everything. Everyone is scared of the managers … they treat you like you are slaves,” said Angela Bello, who has worked in Stetson East for four years and is a main spokesperson for the group. “I always say, I don’t want the boss’ money, I want what we deserve. We are hard workers.”

Chartwells representatives from the company’s Northeastern branch as well as Compass Foods USA, its North Carolina-based parent company, did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.

A group of about 75 dining hall workers, students and members of the Local 26 Unite Here union gathered in front of Ruggles Station, then marched into the INV dining hall, cheering, “Si, se pueda!” – spanish for “Yes we can.” There, they found Tim Cooney, Chartwells’ resident district manager, who refused to come out of the kitchen to speak with the group. Police soon arrived and ushered the crowd outside, where marcher regrouped and proceeded to President Aoun’s office in 716 Columbus Place. There they were greeted by police and three Northeastern administrators. Vice President of External Affairs Michael Armini heard the workers’ complaints on Aoun’s behalf.

One by one, workers came forward and told their stories. They talked about the annual fear of not getting called back to work because there is no job security, not being allowed to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water while the managers are on their cell phones or Facebook, being called “stupid” and “idiot,” and the lack of holidays, sick days, inadequate pay and scheduling. One employee said he had a heart attack at work, and his manager refused to call 911. Another female Curry Student Center employee of 17 years said she had been verbally and sexually harassed.

Anna Sanchez, an eight-year employee, said through a translator that after having back surgery, she had asked for a letter from her boss for food coupons and a rent reduction. She never received it, forcing her to turn to the streets.

“I had to beg for food,” she said.

Several employees also complained about the food quality, saying they were forced to serve food that was sometimes two or three days old, and they feel the students deserve better.

“I think that not only should we institute in our dining halls serving real food – real good food – but also make it serve real jobs,” senior international affairs major Frank Marino said. “I’m ready to stand up for, and I am standing up for, what we all deserve, and for what our community members in the cafeteria deserve, which are real jobs and real respect.”

As of Wednesday evening, university administrators had no comment on the substance of the workers’ petition since they had not yet reviewed it. Renata Nyul, Northeastern’s director of marketing and communications, said Armini would pass it on to the president.

“They handed over a document to Mike Armini, who is the vice president for external affairs, and they asked him to give it to the president and he promised that he would,” Nyul said.

The employees said they were hoping the petition would open a dialogue in which they could make their voices heard to the administration, and hoped that forming a union would provide them support and a platform on which to have their voices heard and their complaints taken seriously. The petition they delivered stated the workers called for a fair, neutral process for workers to organize.

“We want them to listen to us, to what we want,” Johanny Santana, a fourth year employee at the INV dining hall said. “We always just listen to what they want from us, they don’t even ask, they just tell you, this is what you need to do, this is what’s going on, so we want respect back.”

“I hope that the Northeastern University administration will do the right thing and affirm that the workers on our campus have the right to organize unions if they so choose without intimidation and harassment by their employer,” middler international affairs major Claire Lewis said. Lewis is a member of Northeastern’s Progressive Student Alliance, a campus activism group.

They also invited Aoun to attend an open-talk session 7 p.m. March 22 at the African-American Institute’s Cabral Center.

“We’re going to extend our hands to him, to tell him please join us and see what’s going on,” Bello said. “We have to take care of the students, but nobody takes care of us. And we have to fight for our rights.”