In just a few short weeks, a pizzeria, burger joint, Mexican eatery and whiskey bar will open their doors in Lower Sproul Plaza. The area will likely become a concentrated hub of student life — something that students haven’t experienced in two and a half years.
But underneath the fanfare of the glossy Student Union building’s opening, questions have arisen — mainly from union workers and student activists — over the past treatment of workers employed by the private company Chartwells, which the ASUC Student Union Board contracted to operate the vendors. Specifically, food service workers at other universities alleged poverty wages, sexual harassment and other mistreatment by Chartwells’ managers. Chartwells employees at Northeastern University held demonstrations against their employer that culminated in unionization.
Although the ASUC Student Union Board of Directors said it looked into Chartwells’ relationships with its workers, it’s concerning that the board appears to have been unaware of numerous lawsuits and allegations related to the treatment of Chartwells’ workers.
The board chose Chartwells for reasons including its demonstrated food quality, the revenue it would generate and the types of services it would provide to the campus. The board said it considered bringing in local businesses but decided against doing so because it believed that managing many different contracts would decrease the level of control held by students and the ASUC.
But local businesses, which were previously housed in Lower Sproul, would have driven profits back into the local economy. So, although hiring a single food service contractor was likely in the ASUC Student Union’s best financial interests, alternative options might have better served the surrounding community.
In response to complaints against Chartwells at a recent ASUC Student Union board meeting, the board is now developing an addendum that would establish labor standards for Chartwells employees — a positive but delayed move. If the addendum lacks a mechanism of oversight to ensure that workers are protected, however, then the contract will remain flawed.
The contracting of private firms is not a concern for just the ASUC Student Union but for the entire University of California. While a recent move by UC President Janet Napolitano will guarantee a $15 minimum wage to UC and contract workers by 2017, contract workers typically see fewer benefits than do their UC counterparts and often do not have union representation.
The ASUC Student Union needs to remain accountable for the company it chose to hire and must keep close tabs on the operations happening on the ground. The promise of Lower Sproul should not come to fruition at the expense of those laboring to create it.
Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.