Last week, The Anchor highlighted the perspective of Mark Ludwig, a pantry chef who is championing the cause for establishing a union within Dining Services at Hope College. In an effort to provide context as well as the opposing viewpoint on this subject matter, The Anchor sought an official response from Creative Dining Services (CDS), the Zeeland-based third-party contractor who operates dining at Hope. We reached out to CDS with three primary questions: Is it accurate that two full meals are no longer being provided for workers during a regular shift? What is the reasoning for this reduction, if accurate? What is the CDS position on the formation of an employee union? Additionally, we inquired about a concern over lack of hydration stations, as is mentioned in the response.
We received this response from Jane Newton, the Director of People Services for CDS. We have been given permission to publish her response in full so as to best preserve the accuracy and intentionality of the statement:
“Creative Dining Services has been the hospitality partner at Hope College for the last 30 years. Protecting everyone’s wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most critical task we have undertaken during those 30 years.
Creative has always provided beverages for employees to hydrate throughout their work shift. Last week, Creative implemented a running change in its COVID-19 related workstation hydration practices. This occurred based on employee input and need. It had nothing to do with any union discussion.
For this school year, administration set a budget reduction request to all Hope College departments including Dining Services. As part of its response, Creative went from two to one free employee meal per day. One free employee meal is the standard across the Creative organization. Any such change is hard. We have worked with employees to make available nutritious snacks and beverages throughout the workday. We will continue to work with anyone who has special dietary needs.
We know the success of Creative Dining lies in our people. It always has been and always will be. Our team at Hope College has strong core values, big hearts and a bias toward excellence and serving others. These attributes form the basis for our discussions with Creative Dining employees that a union is not beneficial at Hope College.
Creative Dining appreciates every opportunity it has to serve the Hope College community. We remain committed to listening, learning, and responding to accomplish an even greater sense of partnership and trust.
Respectfully and Sincerely,
Bob Van Heukelom, Director of Hospitality Services – Hope College
Jane Newton, Director of People Services – Creative Dining Services”
To summarize, response to COVID-19 has forced a change in the way some systems operate in dining. Hydration has always been a part of employee work, and the policy change which occurred recently was unrelated to union discussion in any way. Additionally, a school-wide budget reduction has impacted Dining Services as well, which is partly responsible for the reduction in free meals. This has put Hope into parity alongside the other contracts within CDS. It is also the position of CDS that a union is “not beneficial at Hope College.”
After learning of a somewhat tense meeting last week, The Anchor reached out once more to Mark Ludwig, looking to see if there had been any new developments. He had this to say, which is printed below in full to provide contextualization and accuracy:
“I was not impressed with the CDS meetings. They suggested loss of benefits [sic] may follow unionization, repeatedly implied UFCW 951 was corrupt and offered no evidence of monetary savings from the recent petty food benefit [sic] changes. My reading of the NLRA website leads me to believe these threats are empty. While the current core of support for a union is small in number I believe there is significant interest from others. Obviously the topic is on the table, people know they can talk to me about it. I’ve also been impressed with some members of the management team who are listening. The leaders who can solve this are on the team if management chooses reason over fear.”
After his response, The Anchor reached out once more to Jane Newton from CDS for a comment. We sought to clarify whether loss of benefits could occur from unionization, and what CDS’s position toward UFCW 951 and similar organizations is. The response was as follows:
“Creative Dining has been involved in a conversation with our employees assigned to Hope College regarding unionization. At this point – other than Mr. Ludwig’s advocacy – we have not identified any interest among our team. Rather, they express their desire to (1) stay focused on safely serving Hope College students and (2) to move away from this distraction. Again, Creative Dining and its team appreciates every opportunity to serve the Hope College community.”
The contention in this matter seems to come from two primary sources. Number one is changes in working conditions; the loss of a second meal plan may indeed have been a decision ultimately spawned by the budget-reduction instigated by Hope proper, as suggested by Ms. Newton. However, as Mr. Ludwig stated, the timing does appear sour and counter-productive, if indeed more manual labor is necessary due to the COVID-19 restrictions. It is clear this issue will remain contentious unless one party significantly changes stance.
The second main source of friction is a much more generalized, but important, conversation about the nature of labor and management relations. CDS, and the food and beverage industry in general, is far from being the only example of this quandary. Labor unionization goes far back historically, taking special prominence in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in Europe and the continental United States. Proponents of unions argue that without unionization, there are few honest checks against the power of management to abuse and underpay employees, and collective bargaining is a way to balance out power. Detractors of unionization contend that unionization stifles competition, short-circuits a dedicated feedback process and harmfully and artificially inflates wage prices. Both of these arguments have sound examples in history, and even if the current situation within Hope’s Dining Services does not change, the underlying motives behind unionizing play a vital role in the negotiation between employer and employees.
This story is ongoing, and The Anchor remains committed to updating the story should developments arise.