Brandeis Leftist Union (BLU) members, students and dining workers gathered in Usdan on Oct. 27 to protest Harvest Table’s unfair treatment of dining workers. The BLU announced that “in response to consistent disrespect and mistreatment from Harvest Table, the Dining Union will be holding another delegation in Usdan this Thursday at 2:45 PM,” via an Instagram post prior to the protest.
Protestors began chanting “What do we want? Respect for workers! When do we want it? Now!,” as they marched from Upper Usdan to Lower Usdan. After moving through Usdan, protestors arrived at Resident District Manager Clayton Hargrove’s office, across from the entrance to Lower Usdan. Hargrove was not in his office, and BLU member Josh Benson ’23 mentioned after the protest that “Lois Stanley [Vice President for Campus Operations] had to call him.” Administrative attendees included Stew Uretsky, executive vice president for finance and administration, Lois Stanley, vice president for campus operations and several Harvest Table administrators.
Resident District Manager Hargrove soon arrived, and went to greet protestors after Vice President Stanley spoke with him briefly. Upon approaching the assembled crowd, one dining worker passed along the groups’ demands: “Our request is very simple, we only want the company to respect us,” with another worker adding that “We want answers as to why the things we need [from our contract are] not in place.”
“We are requesting reasonable [things],” one employee added, “We are not Harvest Table’s slaves, we are human beings.”
One common complaint from the employees was being asked to work beyond the scope of their normal tasks. In a short interview with The Hoot, one employee mentioned that cooks are often given more tasks to do but are not given an increase in pay, even though they sometimes receive no help in performing these additional tasks. Another dining employee echoed this sentiment, mentioning that “when people are asked to work outside of their unit, they need respect.”
Dining employees also lodged complaints about understaffing issues that have caused scheduling difficulties. One employee gave a specific example, speaking about the Starbucks in Farber, saying that “last time we had a conversation about Starbucks, we agreed on four cashiers. Three months later, there are only three. … We never have enough people [at Starbucks], we can’t take out 10 minute breaks. … We need help.” Another employee mentioned how, on the day of the protest they were “the only cashier at Upper [Usdan], and that’s happening every Thursday and Friday.”
It was also mentioned that employees have been waiting for their benefits to kick in “since August.” BLU members added that “on behalf of the students, we support our workers unconditionally.” They went on to say that the student body does not bow, and “if you refuse to give a response and refuse to meet [the workers’] needs, we will continue to protest.”
One BLU member recalled the last protest (surrounding the firing of Kevintz Merisier), reminding attendees that “you [Hargrove] called the cops on us,” and accused Harvest Table of having “managers go around intimidating workers from going to this delegation.” After the protest, in a separate short interview with The Hoot, a dining employee corroborated this claim, adding that a manager who they chose not to name began asking employees “Are you going to the delegation? You have to use your personal time,” and “Am I nice to you? Am I respectful to you?” The dining employee added that “At previous delegations at this exact time, we’ve had more workers.”
When asked if it was true that managers told workers not to come to this protest, Hargrove answered that that’s “not true,” and that he “[doesn’t] know anything about that.”
One BLU member asked Hargrove “When are you planning to give the workers a response [to their demands?” Hargrove countered, saying that “first of all, I support the workers as much as you do. … Anything as far as benefits, if it hasn’t happened, it’ll all be retroed back to July 1.”
When asked “Why these issues have just [started] happening with Harvest Table,” Hargrove responded by saying that he “can’t answer that.” One BLU member pressed on, mentioning that “If you want students to think that you respect workers, your actions will change to show that.”
Employees also told the administrators that they wanted to work with Harvest Table, not against them. “You don’t know how to run this place, you’re learning,” one employee remarked, “You can [learn] something from us, we can [learn] something from you guys.” Other employees echoed this sentiment, adding that “Working together, we can change,” and appealing to Harvest Table to work with dining employees “as a team.”
“A lot of employees are scared,” added one dining employee. But, one BLU member addded “Brandeis administrators are starting to figure out that [students] are not going to let this shit go.”