Roundtable provides forum for Dining Services employees

Maddie Chera

“We just want a voice!” This was one of the major responses to come from the Villanova Dining Services employees last Tuesday during a roundtable discussion of Laws, Workers and the Workplace.

University employees and other members of the Villanova community met in the Devon Room of the Connelly Center to address labor issues, including the workers recent efforts to form a union.

The evening’s discussion began with a brief overview of the labor movement in the United States and the laws pertaining to it. The movement, which is de-emphasized in traditional history classes according to the panel, is based in the idea of solidarity.

It resulted in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which was amended and extended throughout the twentieth century.

The act establishes the right of workers to organize and represent themselves and prohibits employers from punishing people interested in forming a union.

The discussion included a small panel of people involved in a labor union movement that is currently in high gear across the nation. Workers responded that their general attitudes have changed slightly since the Progressive Student Network discussed the issues with them two years ago.

Panel members cited studies that agreed that “jobs that are unionized are better than jobs that are not for the workers,” and ended with the sentiment that “the Catholic Church is clear on the need for unions and the rights of workers.”

It was also noted that unionization efforts, which can either be kept internal or aided by outside organizations, are usually most fruitful when students and workers are allied, as both groups often find themselves “disenfranchised and powerless.”

One dissenting opinion on the panel said students and workers are not powerless and emphasized the sizable changes that both groups have been able to affect.

However, it was pointed out, “The law is only as good as it’s enforced. And that’s the problem.”

Although studies find that almost three-quarters of workers would desire a union if given the opportunity, the voter turnout is significantly lower.

Much of this disparity is attributed to the union-busting industry, employed by 82 percent of employers when faced with union organizing employees.

The union-busters act as legal consultants and advise employers in methods of discouraging workers from unionizing, including using intimidation, coercion, bribery and termination.

Other workers delineated their reasons for organizing, with respect and dignity being foremost. Increased wages and benefits and input on their work without fear of retaliation were other reasons.

Several workers emphasized, however, that “it’s not a bad place to work … but it’s the wages. If we get paid for the job we do, most everyone will be happy.” Many workers love the people they work with and the students they serve, but struggle to make ends meet and feel that tuition reimbursement is not enough incentive to work for the wages they receive.

Employees remarked that as the consumer, students play an important role in dictating how the university operates.

The panel concluded by saying, “This isn’t just the workers struggle, this is all of your struggle. It’s about having a voice about what Villanova is.”

Students from nearby Swarthmore College were also present at the discussion and talked about the ways their student community has shown support for the labor movement and developed wider interest to the issue of unions. Villanova students voiced their encouragement of workers’ rights, but also felt it was essential for the workers to choose when and how they will unionize.