DDS union coverage varies

by Rachel Osterman | 7/5/01 5:00am

Last year, with 16 years of work as a Food Court cook under her belt, Ollie Marcotte's mother became seriously ill. So Marcotte took a couple of weeks off of work to attend to her mother's bedside.

When she returned to campus, she was fired. "They said I was supposed to call from my mother's to tell them what my status was, which I didn't. I called when I got back," Marcotte said.

But Marcotte is a member of Dartmouth's employee's union, so she knew exactly where to turn to get her job back. With the help of the union's president, Marcotte was reinstated with back pay and full benefits. But not all of Dartmouth Dining Services' full-time employees have that same kind of protection.

A few yards from Thayer Hall where Marcotte is a cook, Sheila Blandin, a mother of two young boys and an employee of the same Dartmouth department, works at the Hopkins Center's Courtyard Caf. She essentially performs the same tasks as Marcotte, in addition to working at the cash register. But as an employee of Courtyard, she is not in the union and earns significantly lower wages.

Due to quirks and a chapter of anti-unionism in DDS' management history, some of its eateries are part of Dartmouth's union, local 560 of the Service Employees' International Union, while others are excluded from it. As a result, the differences in pay, benefits and protection for union and non-union DDS employees are significant.

If Marcotte works on Sundays, she gets overtime pay. Blandin does not. If Marcotte works more than eight hours a day, she receives the same time-and-a-half boost in her hourly wage. Blandin does not. If Marcotte shows up at work five minutes late, she faces no negative consequences. Blandin, on the other hand, gets written up by her boss.

Pay and benefit differences are consequential, too. The starting pay for a full-time Courtyard worker is $10.85 an hour. For the equivalent union worker -- in Thayer, Byrne Hall, Novack Caf or Caf North -- that number is $11.15. And for those who work in the union, salaries automatically increase to $12.15 after one year of service. No such automatic raise exists for non-union DDS employees.

And in difficult times, like when Marcotte was fired, union employees also have more protection and organizational muscle on their side.

"If I wasn't in the union, I wouldn't have gotten my job back," Marcotte said.

The reasons for the split in union and non-union DDS jobs are historical.

Before DDS consolidated into the organization it is today, Collis Caf reported to the Dean's Office because it was run by the Collis Center, and Courtyard Caf reported to the Provost's Office because it was administered by the Hop. All other food services were responsible to what was then known as the Dartmouth Dining Association.

But in 1989, the situation changed. An outside consulting group suggested that all of Dartmouth's food services be centrally organized.

Hence, DDS was born.

That's also when the union's president, Earl Sweet, asked that the College recognize all DDS workers in the same bargaining unit.

"I think they'd be a lot better off union, they'd have more of a voice. Their wages would be better," Sweet said.

The College denied the request, and the dispute ultimately ended up in outside arbitration. Arguing that Dartmouth had the right to decide which of its shops were union and which were non-union, the arbiter ruled in favor of the College.

Director of Dining Services Tucker Rossiter said the current system works well.

"We've had it this way for a long time, and this seems to be OK," he said.

Asked if he would support unionization at Courtyard and Collis, Tucker said, "Yeah, I guess I would if that's what they wanted."

Not all of the non-union DDS employees say they are eager to be unionized.

Blandin herself said she was hesitant about the idea. "A union is both good and bad," she said. "They're there to protect you, but sometimes they go overboard."

But Blandin, who has worked at Courtyard for five-and-a-half years, said there are tangible benefits to union membership.

"I know people who are in the union for a few months who are earning the same amount of money I am," she said.

Some Courtyard employees said they would strongly support the unionization of their caf.

"We're not union because they save a lot of money by us being not union," said Don Stault, a supervisor. "We're part of the same department. Right now it's not equal pay for equal work."

In fact, the union tried to organize Courtyard six years ago. All the workers signed union cards -- far more than the minimum for collective bargaining recognition -- but then asked for their cards back after a meeting with then director of human resources, according to Sweet.

"Management didn't want to see them unionized and scared them," Sweet said. "The meeting was weird. I don't know exactly what happened, but people were told that being in a union meant they couldn't speak for themselves to management, which isn't true."

Rossiter denied allegations of intimidation. "I can guarantee you that never happened," he said.

Since the organizing drive six years ago, no effort has been made to organize either Courtyard or Collis, though Sweet said he would like to see those places unionized if workers show an interest.

But that may be a problem.

At Collis, at least, few employees said they wanted to be part of a collective bargaining unit.

Ray Crosby, for one, said he has mixed feelings about unionization. A former employee at Thayer, Crosby was in the union until he was downsized three years ago.

But the union fought for him to be among the first to be re-hired once spaces opened up, which happened almost immediately at Courtyard, which is non-union. He then moved to Collis.

Married and the father of two children, he now makes $100 less a week than he did while at Thayer, but says that he enjoys the sense of teamwork and the daytime hours at Collis.

"Being on both sides, the union has both good things and bad things. You get more money, but you have to pay dues," he said. "They were very good to me. They fought for me, they stuck up for the six of us that got laid off."

Crosby said he does not plan on returning to Thayer, because "If I went back now, I would start at the bottom of, not the pay scale, but the rank. I'd get paid more, but I'd have to work from 5:30 to 1:00 at night. Being married with kids, that wouldn't work."

On the flip side of that story is Trevor Nash, who works at the Food Court grill. A former Courtyard employee, Nash transferred to Food Court when a space opened up because of what he said were the benefits of union membership.

"I came here because they took my Sundays away," he said. "I knew that here it's based on seniority, so I would be able to keep my Sundays. Plus, it's better pay and all that."

Courtyard employee Sandy Kelly, who said she would support a union, added, "The union people have it easier. I think it should all be unionized or none of it unionized. We're doing the same job and getting the same compliments as they are, but getting less money and less benefits."