CulinArt employees agree on new contract

After nearly four months of bargaining, food service contractor CulinArt Inc. and 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the union representing Carnegie Mellon’s food service workers, have come to an agreement on a new contract.

The new three-year contract extends from October 2013 to Sept. 30, 2016. It includes wages 12–14 percent higher than the original employee wage of $10.30 per hour, as well as a more lenient disciplinary policy, which shortens the length of time an employee can be penalized for an incident.

Hermaine Delaney, SEIU Western Pennsylvania director, said the bargaining process was “touch and go, kind of difficult at moments. Once [we] start getting into the economic part of the contract, it gets kind of sticky.”

“The process was an atmosphere of respect and good-faith negotiations,” said Michael Pitkewicz, vice president of Human Resources at CulinArt. “We have a collective bargaining agreement in place and I believe we’re all happy with that.”

“They used to hold stuff over our heads for three years and now after 12 months they have to take it out of our file,” said Kim Squirrel, head vegan and vegetarian chef at Carnegie Mellon. “That got a lot of employees to be terminated for stuff that had happened three years ago.”

The union’s main goal was to raise the minimum wage of CulinArt employees. “[CulinArt] has a two-tier wage system, where people who were hired at a certain date make two dollars or so an hour more than people who were hired after that particular date.... A majority of people who work at CulinArt, they’re in that lower tier,” Delaney said. “Our mission was to try and close that gap, and we succeeded in making it a smaller gap for next time when they bargain... it will be easier to close it.”

The settlement also fell short concerning health care. “Emergency visits went from $50 co-pays to $150 co-pays,” Squirrel said. “I’m not happy about that at all. I think they screwed us over on the insurance.”
Pitkewicz defended this choice in health care and said, “Employee health care is reviewed every year and CulinArt looks for the best possible plan that we can offer to our employees.”

“I think their health care is going to be an issue, at some point, where we try to get them affordable health care where the members aren’t paying so much out of pocket,” Delaney said. “But that’s a fight for another time.”

However, the CulinArt employees still seem to be happy with the settlement. “Based on the vote, I think [the CulinArt employees] are satisfied,” Delaney said. “We pretty much got everything we asked for. It’s better than the last settlement that we got; this one is way better,” Squirrel said.

CulinArt employees also expressed great appreciation for their union. “I love SEIU; they are the best. They fight for us, they fight for our rights. If it had not been for SEIU, we wouldn’t have got what we got. There’s no doubt in my mind that [CulinArt] would not have given us the wage increases or even made some of the concessions in our contract,” Squirrel said. “I love my union. My union rocks.”

CulinArt is also satisfied with the settlement and glad a solution was reached. “I’m very happy [with the settlement]. My personal opinion is that all of the negotiations were handled in good faith and we worked out a contract that we all shook hands upon, which is a great thing,” Pitkewicz said.

“We are happy to have reached an agreement that will benefit the workers and the CMU community alike,” Delaney said. “As the cost of living continues to rise, hard-working CMU food service workers deserve a raise so that they can support their families.”

The CulinArt employees are also thankful for the support from the Carnegie Mellon community throughout the past months’ bargaining. “We appreciate the outpouring of support from faculty, students, parents, and even members of the football team,” said CulinArt employee Gina Stanton, who is a cook at the Resnik Servery. “The CMU community support means a lot to all of us.”