Union scrutinizes Aramark benefits

The life of a service worker on the other side of the counter is the last thing many people think about, but the Service Employees International Union has made workers’ rights its main concern.

UH’s SEIU has alleged that Aramark, food-service provider, treats its employees unfairly from wages to vacations and benefits.

"Aramark workers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the city," SEIU political director Michael Espinoza said. "They average about $6.30 an hour, no vacation or sick days and literally no respect."

Aramark has workers across the U.S., including at several large venues in Houston such as the George R. Brown Convention Center, Reliant Park and Minute Maid Park, SEIU officials said.

Aramark representatives said the company treats all employees in a fair and respectable manner.

"Regarding UH, Aramark currently has approximately 200 employees on campus," Aramark representative Karen Cutler said. "The average hourly wage for an employee on the UH campus exceeds $8 (an hour). All full-time employees, which are those designated as working 30 or more hours per week, accrue vacation and sick pay. All employees have opportunities for training and advancement."

The minimum wage in Texas will be increased to $6.55 by July from the national minimum wage

Cutler said Aramark employees have room to move up in the industry and have options for health benefits as well.

"At Aramark, we know that our employees are our greatest asset," Cutler said. "We offer competitive wages, both in our industry and for similar positions in the communities where we operate. The vast majority of Armark’s employees, salaried and hourly, have the opportunity to participate in an Aramark sponsored health plan, and in most cases Aramark makes a substantial contribution to the cost of their plans. We also offer a range of other benefits, including insurance and retirement savings plans."

Espinoza said SEIU wants UH students to get involved in its movement to improve working conditions for Aramark workers on campus.

"The University of Houston is a big provider of Aramark. Workers need the help of the students and students should demand improvement of the lives of the employees," Espinoza said. "Students pay tuition, thus they have direct say to demand change."

Espinoza said there are a number of way UH students can have an impact on campus.

"Basically putting pressure on the administration, writing a letter to President (Renu) Khator, signing petitions and participating in rallies," Espinoza said. "Support from the student body is very important."

Design senior Jason Bell works at the Starbucks in the University Center Satellite and said the main difference between working at his old location and on campus under Aramark is his pay.

"The salary changed dramatically," Bell said. "Aramark is very good about paying its employees, I guess paywise. I don’t know about any of the other employees… but I don’t have a problem with the way that they pay me because it’s pretty good."

He said Starbucks has wonderful benefits, but Aramark’s health plans aren’t as extensive, which doesn’t necessarily affect him because he is covered through his mother’s insurance.

Bell said he is aware of controversy surrounding Aramark and its workers, but to his knowledge the company treats its workers well.

"I love my job, I love the customers…. I really like my job a lot because of the customers," he said. "So far, to me, Aramark is a great company to work for and I don’t really have any doubts about how far or how long I would want to stay with the company."

SEIU has filed unfair labor practice charges against Aramark, Espinoza said.

SEIU filed several unfair labor practice charges in January with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal government agency that was formed in 1935 by Congress with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, intended to support workers’ rights.

Espinoza said one charge filed against Aramark regarding unfair labor practices in January led to a hearing in which the worker was eventually terminated. He said he believes the worker was fired for filing charges against the company.

SEIU will hold a Direct Action Workshop at the University Center today at 7 p.m.

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