Food service workers at Loyola received a raise, additional paid time off and protection from discipline for calling off work due to COVID-19 after renegotiating their union contract this year but it’s unclear whether students will face additional costs because of this.
The workers — employed by Aramark, the company that handles food service on Loyola’s campuses — adjust their contract every few years by negotiating with the company through their union, UNITE HERE Local 1, The Phoenix reported.
After finalizing a new contract, Loyola Aramark food service workers are entitled to an immediate $1 raise with another 50-cent raise coming in July. This means the average Aramark worker is making about $15 or $16 dollars an hour, according to a Loyola Aramark worker and one of the union’s stewards Arndell Aytch.
The workers also now receive 21 paid quarantine days, two additional paid sick days — totaling eight per year — and no discipline for people who call off work due to COVID-19.
The contract also includes two years of recall rights for laid-off workers, meaning those who were laid off due to campus being partially closed can be rehired when full operations resume in coming years, Aytch said.
It’s unclear how the wage increase might impact what students pay for dining services.
“Whether or not Aramark chooses to pass all or a portion of this cost onto Loyola in the form of meal plan rate changes would only be speculative on our part since the price increases that Aramark asks for from us are driven by a number of factors,” Loyola spokesperson Anna Rozenich said.
Loyola’s Aramark District Manager Connie Chambers wouldn’t answer questions about additional costs Loyola students might face due to increased wages for Aramark employees or what next year’s meal plan options might cost.
Students living on campus currently pay $2,550 each semester to have access to three trips a day to the dining halls during designated meal times and three additional night visits per week, according to Loyola’s Dining Service’s website. During the 2019-20 academic school year, students living on campus paid $2,710 per semester for unlimited access to the dining halls and the academic year before that students paid $2,665 per semester for unlimited access, according to Loyola’s website.
Aytch said it felt especially important to renegotiate the contract this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased concerns about workplace safety throughout the city.
“We would want everyone to feel comfortable going to work,” Aytch said. “All of us feel very strongly that our family is our support group, but also sometimes our focus. You wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize them. Loyola students and the other workers are like a second family, and we wouldn’t want to endanger them either.”
Aytch has worked at Loyola for seven years and used to cater events on Loyola’s campuses but now delivers meals to students in isolation or quarantine. He also works within UNITE HERE Local 1 advocating for other Aramark employees at Loyola. The union includes 259 Loyola food service workers who operate the various dining halls and cafes on Loyola’s campuses and previously catered university events.
This semester, only Damen Dining Hall and De Nobili Dining Hall are open and serve meals packaged for carry-out, although there is distanced seating available, The Phoenix reported.
Aytch said the new contract “reaffirms” the reason he travels nearly two hours from the South Side of Chicago to work at the university. Aytch said nearly 60 percent of the food service workers at Loyola travel to campus from the South and West Sides of Chicago.
“I’m very happy to work here with co-workers who are friends and seeing the bright young minds I get to enrich, as well as with the 21 paid day leave,” Aytch said. “ I feel comfortable knowing I’ll be able to pay any bills that fall during that time period, but it also gives me the opportunity to take care of myself and my family.”
In the past, Aramark workers faced some difficulty negotiating increased benefits and wages. In 2016, the bargaining went on for months and led to multiple demonstrations on campus in support of the workers, The Phoenix reported. But this year, Aytch said it seemed like all parties involved were “acting in good faith” and understood the workers’ financial and safety needs.
Aytch said this was shown in the way workers were able to gain more sick and quarantine days. He described these as the most important components because they’re safeguards to protect other workers and the Loyola community from the spread of COVID-19.
“There are always other matters we’d want to address — even though it’s an initial $1 raise you can imagine some of us would’ve said $1 isn’t enough, but we have to take into account this is someone else’s money,” Aytch said.
Chambers said Aramark “looks forward to continued collaboration” with the union.
“We are pleased to have worked together on an agreement that is beneficial to our employees and our organization,” Chambers said in an email to The Phoenix.
Aytch said that without this new contract, the quality of service at Loyola’s dining halls might have decreased due to workers’ attitudes.
“It is a relief to see the students highly engaged on campus even though there’s 6 feet of social distancing,” Aytch said. “ If we can’t take care of ourselves financially and health-wise and if many of us were in a bad mood because of that, it’d become its own snowball effect where students would probably get a completely different feel.”