On Sept. 22, students gathered in Upper Usdan to protest the firing of Catering Lead Kevintz Merisier and deliver a petition to Harvest Table’s Resident District Manager Clayton Hargrove. The protest was organized by the Brandeis Leftist Union (BLU), who have the goal of “building a coalition committed to direct action and organizing on and off campus,” according to their Instagram bio.
In an interview with The Brandeis Hoot, BLU member Josh Benson ’23 said that Merisier was “a particularly militant laborer with regard to our dining struggle last semester to secure catering exclusivity and the union contract.” Merisier was fired on for reasons that could not be disclosed to community members, according to an email interview with Hargrove and Matthew Carty, Harvest Table’s Brandeis Guest Experience Manager. According to Carty, the company could “not discuss personnel issues nor answer questions out of respect for the privacy of our current and former employees, as well as to abide by our CBA.”
In a separate interview with The Hoot, Merisier mentioned that the given reason for his firing was that he “violated company policy,” but feels that “[t]hat was not the real reason behind [his] firing.” He went on to say that he feels his vocal nature may be the cause: “Clay would always joke with me, what’s the Kevintz model? If it hurts, I’m going to say ouch, I don’t sugarcoat things. [So,] [i]t’s not in their best interest [to keep me as an employee].”
Merisier also mentioned that he was “pretty involved” with the Brandeis Dining Workers Union; “I helped lead the exclusivity rallies we had all last year. I am the face of catering.” He also brought up how personable he was during his time on campus, saying “I was the man, I’m a people person. I interacted with every single person on that campus, every ethnicity, upperclassmen, underclassmen, BEMCO, facilities, Brandeis police. I speak to everybody, I hold doors, I do all the events on campus. My face is always there … and I’ve never ever had an issue.”
He added that Harvest Table has not contacted him since his firing, and that “I am missing all my vacation pay and my personal hours that I had stored. Since my firing I haven’t recieved anything, not one cent.”
“I just want my job back,” Kevintz concluded, “I just want to come back to my campus. I gotta come back home. Brandeis is home.”
In response to the firing, students gathered in Upper Usdan around 3:30 p.m. to “deliver the petition to Clayton in his office [in Usdan],” according to Benson, but they soon learned that “Clayton had left Upper [Usdan] at around 3:20 in anticipation of the delegation.” Student protestors then “trekked through the rain down to Sherman and as soon as Clayton saw sort of on the curved the stairs after Sherman, he bolted out the emergency exit.”
In an attempt to deliver a physical copy of the petition that had been circling among community members online to Hargrove, “some students followed him, looped back around Sherman, and then Clayton went into the entrance to the kitchen on the kosher side,” according to Benson. She continued, telling The Hoot that after Hargrove entered the kosher side kitchen, “students were told that they couldn’t enter there. Students didn’t [enter], handed the petition off to some junior Harvest Table employees, did some chants with the workers who gathered in support of Kevintz and in support of students trying to deliver the petition.”
Commenting on the events that occurred on Sept. 22 when students attempted to deliver the petition to Hargrove, Carty wrote to The Hoot that “for everyone’s safety, it is important to know that kitchen access is restricted only to those who are working in dining.” Carty went on to write that, “Campus security was called on September 22, 2022, when students entered the prohibited kitchen space at Sherman Dining Hall and refused to leave when asked. Campus Security responded. Students left before they arrived.”
Benson explained that the student protestors left after recognizing that they wouldn’t be able to hand the petition to Hargrove, and instead students returned to Usdan where they had originally congregated. Benson recounted that then, the protestors received a call from an employee in Sherman who told them that “Brandeis police had been called to Sherman, and that they were headed up to Usdan looking for [them].”
“That was really scary,” she recalled. Not wanting to be in harm’s way, Benson explained that the group of students made the decision to disperse.
Benson mentioned that the BLU was “simply trying to deliver a petition,” and that “[Brandeis] police are not supposed to be used to break up protests.” She also added that the BLU has reports from people who were on the scene that Hargrove was saying that the protestors endangered him in some way or were threatening him, but disregards this as “totally untrue.” Benson said “the combination of exaggerating the claims of danger [posed a] risk to all students, but specifically students of color.”
Benson added that “Harvest Table is not making a good reputation for themselves [over the] four months that they’ve been on campus. That’s a shorter span of time than Sodexo was here for … but definitely in that short time Harvest Table, its representatives, Clayton’s other managers and even their CEO … have not been helpful.” Elaborating, she mentioned that Mary Thornton was on campus and the [BLU] members … tried to explain the situation regarding Kevintz to her, tried to give Thornton a petition very diplomatically, but [she said] “I don’t know about this [situation] and even if I did, I can’t do anything [about it].”
Benson feels that “a transition to self-dining, which Brandeis used to have many decades ago … would be better for workers and would allow students to more directly pressure the university to take accountability [for] the treatment of the people who work on campus.”