Aramark employees express concern over layoffs
Published: Tuesday, April 8, 2003
Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 22:05
Some Aramark employees at Brandeis, all of whom refused to have their names printed for fear of losing their jobs, have expressed their concern over mandatory layoffs during school vacation periods, disrespectful managers and a high employee turnover rate."I always liked it here, but they're a ruthless company and a lot of people think that," an employee said. "It's not the same as it used to be and I think I work just as hard...we don't feel like we're respected as workers."
Since the University chose to outsource to Aramark in 1998, dining services policies have changed. For example, for four years after Aramark's beginning at Brandeis, employees that were grandfathered in were allowed to work during school breaks if they chose to do so. Since last summer, however, the optional layoff period with 60 percent unemployment compensation was replaced by a mandatory layoff period, with 60 percent unemployment compensation, affecting all workers who were hired after Aramark's arrival at Brandeis and approximately five workers who were hired before then.
"While they are laying off a lot of people, there is still a lot of work to be done," an employee said. "Management has no problem doing it ... Brandeis always kept us busy doing cleaning, painting and food preparation."
One employee also said that sometimes Aramark changed job titles in order to get away with layoffs. "Last summer (Aramark) had the manager driving the truck around," he said. "They got away with it."
The employee said that the truck driver was laid off, and his job title was changed to catering steward so that the manager could drive the truck instead.
Another employee said he is also dissatisfied about managers doing union work, specifically by working at the cash register and grills and by cleaning the floors. "The managers are taking our jobs and we get laid off," he said. "That's not right at all."
Another employee agreed, saying, "When you get down to it, it is about taking our jobs, and they do it piecemeal over the years."
Associate Vice President of University Services Mark Collins admits that if managers are seen performing union tasks it is because there are no other union employees available to work. "No one sits here today advocating that managers should do union work, but things happen," he said. "It would make no sense for me to pay a manager to do the grill ... they work for very short amounts of time, never full shifts."
"Contractually, they're not supposed to do union work," Collins added. "We try to get someone in."
Barbara Laverdiere, director of Aramark at Brandeis, said that part of the employees' grievances stem from economic issues. "I think we're financially challenged like all other institutions," she said. "We try to do the most we can with financial strains."
"The last thing you want to do is go backward," she added. "I don't want to affect the program. You do the best with the resources you have."
Collins agreed that Brandeis is facing financial issues."Two thousand-three is shaping up to be a difficult year," Collins said."The dollars just simply aren't there."
Laverdiere said that the workers' contract allows Aramark to control layoff periods. "We are allowed to manage layoffs," she said. "If there's nothing to do (during school breaks), I can't guarantee employment."
Some Dining Services workers, who have worked at the University since before 1998, said they remember being told by "some suits from Philadelphia" that they would not be laid-off during breaks. "I wonder if (Aramark), at the time of negotiations, would have wanted to tell us still here from Brandeis' old days, along with new(ly hired employees), that their commitment to offer jobs at current salaries only applied to when and where they wanted their Dining Service employees to work, neglecting to tell them that they would soon be laid off for over 20 weeks each year henceforth," another employee said.
Another employee said that Aramark is not obligated to employ workers during the breaks since this had never been put in writing. "We never put it in any language, and that was our mistake," he said. "(We needed to) get everything in ironclad writing, and even then you're screwed."
Additionally, other employees explained that there is little that they can do to change policy since their contract mandates that there can be no strikes or stoppages of work. Laverdiere confirmed that this is true.
Commenting on the contract's authority, Laverdiere said," (Employees) have to understand that the union contract is the binding contract. Anyone can say anything but I wouldn't promise anything I knew I couldn't change."
Laverdiere added that during contract negotiations it was of the utmost importance to employees to have frozen medical benefits. Despite medical inflation, Aramark employees will pay the same amount for medical expenses until 2006. Aramark absorbs the price increases. "For 108 people to have benefits, that's a pretty nice perk," she said. "You can't get all this and not expect something won't go down on the other side."
"If (the employees) were actually still working for the University, they would have seen huge increases (in medical expenses)," Laverdiere added.
Laverdiere said that there are 38 employees who have worked for the University since before 1998 and that "more than half absolutely want the layoff" because they enjoy the time off or have family to care for. "Out of summers and the past, I've needed around 15 people or so. We are talking about a very small amount of people. I realize that it's upsetting if you're one of those people, but the world's not perfect and not everyone is going to be happy," she said. "We're talking about five people that really want to work ... we try to make the best decision for the most number of people."
Employees hired after 1998 were told that there will be layoffs during school breaks. "The employees have been told that this is a seasonal job," Laverdiere said. "If that's not good for you, this is not the job for you."
"People are working hard for less right now ... this has been a really painful year," Collins said. "We needed to make reductions and you do the best you can. These decisions aren't taken lightly. I think that's a sign of the times - not just at Brandeis."
Aramark employees have expressed concern over the high turnover rate, chiefly relating to managers. "I've seen over 30 managers," an employee said. "I lost count. The turnover of managers is unbelievable."
Collins concurred, saying "it's a very high turnover," but he said it is mostly because this is standard practice in the dining services industry, which has an industrial average turnover of 25 percent. However, Laverdiere disagrees that at Brandeis in particular turnover is high, saying, "it is almost nonexistent. I have almost zero turnover."
She said that in two years there were no regrettable losses. Eight managers were promoted to institutions outside of Brandeis who were also using Aramark's services, while many more were promoted within Brandeis itself. According to Laverdier, external and internal promotions are not defined as turnover. Contrastingly, workers view these promotions as turnover since they say they are constantly being confronted with new managers.
One instance of turnover some employees took notice of was the 2002 layoff of Expressway - or C-Store, as it is commonly known - manager Mike Locheatto, who had worked for Brandeis for 10 years. "(Locheatto) was told to slow down in products and not restock the shelves (of the Expressway)," an employee said. "He didn't like that because he did not want to do this to students. He also wasn't friendly with the other managers."
The employee further explained that Locheatto had urged Rachel Nazarian '03, a friend of many Aramark employees, to write a letter of complaint to Aramark headquarters in Philadelphia.
In her e-mail to Aramark headquarters Nazarian wrote: "It has come to my attention that the store is intentionally neglecting to (restock to) prevent students from using the points, i.e. money, left on their meal plans," Nazarian said. "I'm aware that money not used by students before the end of the semester is passed directly to Aramark. I truly hope that Aramark does not encourage behavior such as this."
According to the same employee, shortly after sending Nazarian's e-mail, Aramark employees from headquarters were sent to Brandeis to audit the store, and the shelves were restocked. Aramark managers from Brandeis approached Locheatto for an explanation, but for fear of his job, he denied knowing Nazarian, according to the same employee. Two days later Aramark managers saw the two talking together and he was laid off. "It's sad because (Locheatto) cared about students and wanted to get stock to campus," the employee said.
Laverdiere said she disagrees with the employee's claim, and stated that Locheatto was told to restock the shelves more frequently and was given the opportunity to improve his behavior. "I take it very seriously when someone is not part of our team," she said. "There were issues that I was not happy about at the store ... I was just tired about hearing that the store was not stocked ... It's insulting that people would think that we would run the business that way ... that's why we put signs up - so you can buy in bulk."
"We are not interested in having things left behind," Laverdiere added. "I got beat up, and justifiably so. Having empty shelves is not meeting the needs of students. If we are not meeting the needs of students, then why are we here? I did what I thought needed to be done. Every individual was given the opportunity to succeed."
Jessica Smith, human resources manager, added, "he was a supervisor. He did not meet our vision for where the store needed to go. We needed an experienced manager. We allowed him to reapply (along with other applicants) as well. He didn't have management experience. (The new manager) was a C-Store expert at one of our other schools ... anytime a decision is made, it is made fairly and not biasly (sic.)."
Another instance of turnover employees took notice of was the layoff of a cash manager, identified as Mona, who had worked at Brandeis for over 10 years. Since her position was considered a managerial one, she could not join the union.
"I know it's a sign of difficult times, but when Aramark came over they said they'd keep workers," another employee said. "(Aramark) is not a caring company, and they don't want you to work."
"We truly believe that if we didn't have a union we'd all be out of here," the employee added. "We all feel like a number; we could be here today and gone tomorrow."
Laverdiere said, however, that the layoff of the cash manager was out of necessity. "We no longer needed someone to do that on a full-time basis," she said. "We offered to reduce the schedule or take the layoff. We would take her back if the schedule changes."
"This is someone's livelihood," Laverdiere added. "We give opportunities to be well-rounded. We rotate them to different positions and locations."
Laverdiere continued that to layoff an employee, "you would have to have just cause to do something like that. The employee is given ample opportunity to correct that behavior," saying that absenteeism and tardiness are common issues. She added that there are many steps taken to avoid layoff if at all possible, referring to progressive discipline, which includes counseling, and verbal and written warnings. She added, "It is a pretty tough process."
Discrimination against employees hired before 1998 is another concern. The longer employees work for Aramark the more they are paid due to the one or two percent increase per year as mandated by the contract to a certain ceiling rate. Laverdiere responded to this issue, by referring back to the strict layoff policies.
A final concern shared by Aramark employees is that Janet Lehrman, who serves on the University's Board of Trustees, is married to the CEO of Aramark, Joe Neubauer. "She recluses herself from any decision remotely related to dining decisions," Laverdiere said in defense of this connection.