Dining staff and students rally over abrupt firing of worker
The firing of a beloved dining hall worker sparked outrage and uproar, and prompted a petition.
Catering Lead Kevin Merisier showed up to work early on Wednesday, Aug. 31 in a good mood. Though there had been struggles with the transition to Brandeis’ new dining vendor, Harvest Table, Merisier still loved his job. He had worked as a caterer at Brandeis, including two and a half years working for Brandeis through a temp agency, since February 2014. In the eight years Merisier has worked here, he has never been disciplined, according to Michaela McCormack '23. But by the next week, Merisier no longer held his position on the catering team.
At approximately 4:45 p.m. on Aug. 31, an alleged altercation between Merisier and Director of Catering Julie Verrier occurred. According to Merisier, the conversation between Verrier and himself related to what time Merisier and the other catering leads, Seda Ghazaryan and Hugo Mansilla, could come into work the following morning. Harvest Table officially fired Merisier on Sept. 7, exactly one week after the alleged incident.
Gabriel Bayard, the Internal Organizer for UNITE HERE Local 26, a workers' union that represents hospitality workers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, also represents dining workers at over 11 universities in the Boston area, including Brandeis. Bayard, along with the two Brandeis Union Stewards elected by the dining worker body, submitted a grievance to Harvest Table on Sept. 8, one day after Merisier’s official termination.
“As somebody who has examined all of the documents provided by [Harvest Table], as I have a right to under the union contract, I haven’t seen anything that rises to the level of immediate termination,” Bayard said. “That’s why the Union grieved this termination and that’s why we think it’s unfair.”
The main thing that UNITE HERE Local 26 workers demand is for any security camera footage relevant to the Aug. 31 incident to be released to the Union. At the time of publication, Harvest Table has not relinquished the footage to the Union. Their reasoning has not been expressed to workers or the worker’s Union.
Merisier was heavily involved in a March 11, 2022 demonstration on Brandeis’ campus that was organized by both dining employees and students in the Brandeis Leftist Union. The main purpose of the rally was to object to a change that catering for on-campus events was no longer exclusive to the Brandeis catering staff. There was also a focus on preserving the workers’ jobs, hours, and benefits.
A more recent demonstration took place on Tuesday, Sept. 13. After clocking out for a break that day about three dozen workers, along with five members of BLU, lined up outside of Executive Director of Hospitality Clay Hargrove’s office to participate in what the workers and BLU referred to as a “delegation.” Participants expressed their concerns over the firing of Merisier and, according to them, the mistreatment of workers.
Ellis Huang ’23, a member of BLU, shared a video of the delegation with the Justice. At the beginning of the delegation, clapping and chanting echoed throughout the dining hall. Then, Hargrove led the 30 or so workers, along with the five BLU members, into the hallway outside of his office and out of sight from passersby.
The following workers interviewed chose to remain anonymous.
“This is not acceptable, and we have a bunch of people here,” one dining worker said. “We are very, very angry.”
Another dining worker expressed that they “did not think it was fair” that Harvest Table fired Merisier and that concerns were expressed about Verrier’s management before his dismissal.
A third worker said that while they did not witness what happened between Merrisier and Verrier, they know Merisier. “Everybody loves him,” they said. “Everywhere he works, he’s helping everybody.”
A fourth worker expanded upon the third worker’s statement, agreeing that while they themselves do not know what happened between Merisier and Verrier, they know Merisier and called him 'responsible.'
Huang, one of the BLU members at the delegation, also voiced their frustrations. Towards the end of the delegation, they introduced themself, saying that they and the four other BLU members present represented “the will of the student body.” They went on to say, “we support our dining workers” and “the general student body loves our dining workers … I have a great relationship with a lot of the people who serve us and we’re very grateful … and that’s why we won’t stand by and watch any sort of mistreatment of our dining workers.”
“I want Kevintz reinstated, I want justice for Kevintz,” Huang continued. “We put up a huge fight when [Sodexo was] not treating the dining workers correctly, and we will not be afraid to do that with Harvest Table.”
According to Ghazaryan and Mansilla, Verrier was no longer at Brandeis as of Friday, Sept. 16, three days after the delegation took place. Both are under the impression that the catering director will not be coming back to Brandeis at all. As of Sept. 19, no one at Harvest Table has communicated with dining workers about what happened to her.
The Brandeis Leftist Union is currently gathering signatures for a petition to reinstate Merisier. The petition clarifies that Merisier is the only Black member of the catering team, and that this circumstance followed a string of unprofessionalism and disrespect directed towards Merisier at the hands of the "white Harvest Table director." At the time of publication, the petition already has over 300 signatures from current students. The Leftist Union will be holding a tabling event to promote their cause in Upper Usdan this Thursday, Sept. 22, at 2:30 p.m.
Since his firing, Merisier has kept busy trying to make ends meet, he explained, in a Sept. 18 Zoom interview with the Justice. He has taken on working as a delivery driver for companies such as Uber Eats and DoorDash. In a way, he is continuing to do what he loves — bringing people food and making them happy. When asked what he would like the Brandeis community to hear from him, he responded, “This is my community. Everybody from the president's office to facilities, they’re all my people. I’ve built a relationship with everybody on this campus. Every group, every ethnicity, every building. I do miss this campus dearly, and I need to come back, I have to come back.”
Then, Merisier looked straight into the camera, his brown eyes piercing through the screen. He clearly enunciated each word with a strong and purposeful tone.
“I want my job back.”
The Justice reached out for a statement from Vice President for Campus Operations Lois Stanley, Director of University Services Jeffrey Hershberger, and Assistant Vice President for Communications Julie Jette. Hershberger replied, “[Merisier] was a Harvest Table employee, and that being the case, I need to refer you back to Harvest Table.”
The Justice reached out for a statement from Hargrove on two separate occasions, Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, but did not receive a response as of Monday night on Sept. 20.
This is a developing story. The Justice will continue to update this article online as more details become clear.