Dining hall employee walkout postponed, slow down to happen instead

Thursday, September 10, 2020 - 2:39pm

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File Photo/Daily

 

 

 

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to note that Friday's MDining walkout has been postponed.

A planned Friday walkout of University of Michigan Dining student employees has been postponed as of Friday afternoon, according to a statement from the group to The Daily. Instead, the group will conduct "a slow down across several dining halls across campus." 

"We want to emphasize that this is not a failure of the dining hall workers, but a failure of the administration to protect its workers," the statement reads. 

The group's Twitter account @UMakesmesick said the walkout was postponed "due to threats of repercussions against those walking out." It is unclear who allegedly threatened the MDining workers.

In an email to The Daily Friday afternoon, Amir Baghdadchi, Housing senior associate director, said Michigan Dining "has not threatened any staff with repercussions for participating in a walk out."

"Student staff are an essential part of Michigan Dining, and we work on keeping up a positive relationship with our students," Baghdadchi wrote. "It's one of the reasons why so many students have stayed with us through their Michigan careers. We are hoping to arrive at a better understanding with our student staff, so they can do their best work."

The group, made up of several dozen student dining employees, announced Thursday that they would walk out of work Friday evening in demand of “safer, better working conditions.” The dining strike was to be in solidarity with the ongoing graduate student and resident adviser strikes.

On Twitter Friday afternoon, the Graduate Employees' Organization said they would march to the Mosher-Jordan dining hall Friday around 5 p.m. to support the dining hall workers, even though the walkout has been postponed. 

The MDining employees are asking for frequent widespread testing for all staffers, “a clear and transparent sanitation plan which is consistently enforced by management” and no attendance violations for missing work until the group deems it is safe to return to their jobs.

In a statement to The Daily Thursday, when the group first announced the walkout, the MDining employees said their walkout decision “was not made lightly.”

“We have seen COVID policies promised to us not going into effect, such as providing face shields for students working within 3ft of each other, enforcing social distancing of students in line, and properly sanitizing high touch points such as handrails, door handles, etc frequently,” the statement reads. 

The same group of MDining employees posted flyers across campus Wednesday and Thursday asking fellow employees if they are “tired of working in unsafe conditions.” The flyers note the walkout would've take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, and other information posted on social media said the employees would've marched to the Diag and then to the Michigan Union.

Organizers of the walkout, who requested anonymity out of fear of professional retaliation, said the group is student-led and made up of several dozen student employees who are not members of a formal union. 

Before the walkout postponement, organizers had said students who struggle with food insecurity can eat before and after the canceled strike. 

Daniel Henne, Student Life Director of Communications, wrote in an email to The Daily before the postponement that Dining administrators are aware of calls for a walkout and “are anticipating no interruption in meal service tomorrow.”

“Michigan Dining is committed to the safety of their employees and the Michigan Dining program for this Fall has been guided and informed by public health information and University and Michigan Medicine experts,” Henne wrote.

Friday’s canceled walkout was to be the latest in a series of work stoppages across campus. GEO and R.A.s are both currently striking for stronger COVID-19 protections from University administration.

GEO, which began its strike on Tuesday, has called for the University to allow graduate students the universal right to work remotely, divert funds from the Department of Public Safety and Security and increase support for international students. The union represents more than 2,000 graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants.

The GEO strike is set to end Friday, though members could reauthorize the work stoppage for an extended period of time. GEO members rejected a proposal from University administrators by several hundred votes Wednesday night, opting to continue the strike because they did not feel the proposal adequately addressed their demands. 

On Wednesday, more than 100 R.A.s announced plans to strike, calling for increased COVID-19 protections such as regular access to testing for all residential staff, sufficient personal protective equipment and hazard pay. They have also asked for a formal statement of no retaliation from University Housing leadership and more transparency in communication going forward.

The R.A. strike has had varying effects across University residence halls, mainly impacting mailroom operations and residents who get locked out of their rooms. Organizers told The Daily the R.A. strike will end when they decide that the University has met enough of their demands.

In a Wednesday night email to ResStaff, Rick Gibson, director of Michigan Housing, sent a form to R.A.s asking them to “indicate that you are continuing to work or returning to work in your ResStaff role” in order to help Housing assess scheduling needs.

Gibson called the students a crucial part of Michigan Housing staff.

“While we hold that trust and dialogue are better ways of accomplishing a common goal, we understand that some ResStaff may have felt that disruptive action is necessary,” Gibson wrote. “We assure you that this is not the case, and we are grateful for the recent ResStaff feedback that prompted us to provide new PPE to all communities, clarify our public health policies with residents, and improve communication with you.”

R.A.s are not unionized, though they have asked within their demands for a promise of no retaliation if they chose to form one in the future.

GEO and the R.A.s have shared mutual support for their respective strikes. Dining hall workers said in their Thursday statement they hope the University recognizes their concerns in addition to those of GEO and the R.A.s.

Before the walkout was postponed, the MDining organizers told The Daily there could be additional walkouts in the future, though none are currently planned. 

“For the safety of our workers who are on the front lines working with students, we will be striking until our voice is heard,” the statement reads.

Daily News Editors Claire Hao and Alex Harring can be reached at cmhao@umich.edu and harring@umich.edu.

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