After a contentious battle between Yale Dining and Local 35, head pantry workers have been given the opportunity to return to the residential colleges.
In June of last year, the University announced that it was shifting the production of salads, dressings and deli items from the residential colleges to the Culinary Support Center, an off-campus food preparation facility. Two months later, head pantry workers were asked to leave their residential colleges to work in the new facility. Although no jobs were eliminated in the creation of CSC, many employees were upset about their relocations.
These issues pushed Local 35, Yale’s blue-collar union, to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in September. After a year of public opposition to the changes, the union and the University have come to an agreement, University spokesman Tom Conroy said.
“This was not an issue about jobs, pay or hours,” Conroy said. “It was about where people worked. And it’s good to have the matter resolved in a way the University and union both accept.”
Head pantry worker Sally Notarino said it was always her goal to return to the Silliman dining hall, and she will be taking advantage of this opportunity to leave the CSC. Notarino said she has not yet been told what sort of position she will be working in Silliman, since the “head pantry worker” job is not being recreated in the dining halls. This issue will be discussed between Notarino and her manager before she returns to her home unit, she said.
Silliman Chef Stu Comen said Notarino and Debbie Ruocco were the only two former head pantry workers who opted to return to residential dining halls. He said he believes other workers chose to stay at CSC not because they enjoy their current positions, but because they fear putting themselves in a position of uncertainty.
Comen added that CSC workers only work during the week, while dining hall staff often have weekend shifts. This difference played a role in the decision-making process, he said.
“They don’t know if they will be treated better in the dining halls, and some of the girls have already gotten part-time jobs, while others don’t want to work Saturdays again,” he said. “I know a lot of them had a really hard time deciding what to do, but when push comes to shove they would rather take a good schedule with a bad manager.”
Ruocco, who previously served as head pantry worker in Berkeley College, said she is returning to Berkeley because she feels the way in which Yale Dining moved her to the CSC was unfair.
However, she added that she had expected this decision to be reversed.
“I think this change was inevitable. In my mind I was always going back,” she said. “When I was forced to clean out my locker, I left my things in the back of my car — I never brought them into the CSC.”
Conroy said the University made sure the CSC would not be impacted by this deal. The center will retain all of its current responsibilities going forward, he said, meaning the preparation of all salads, dressings and cold deli items.
“What’s most important to the University is that the CSC, which reflects the best practice, will continue to operate and progress,” he said. “And it’s always positive to reach an agreement that meets the needs of both parties involved.”
Conroy added that Yale has been negotiating with the labor union since late last year. As a result of workers leaving the CSC, he said, Yale will post new job openings at the CSC, which will be open to current Yale Dining workers and outside employees.
Head pantry workers have a month to decide whether they wish to retain their positions at CSC or return to their home units, Conroy said.
However, Ruocco said workers were not effectively given a month to make their decisions. The given month is the deadline by which the changes must take effect, she said.
Comen said that if the University had extended this opportunity to workers earlier, it is likely that more people would have chosen to return to their home units. He added that although it is good that the University and the union have reached an agreement, it would have been better if more workers had decided to go back to the residential colleges. Many workers miss the family feeling of the colleges and being involved with the other employees, but they are nevertheless afraid to return, Comen said.
“To put it simply, they’re afraid to go back because they don’t know if it will happen again,” he said. “They just started getting comfortable out there.”