By Kaye Burnet and Brandon Addeo | The Duquesne Duke
More than 50 Duquesne food workers gathered on Academic Walk near Rooney Field Wednesday afternoon, holding signs and shouting slogans calling for faster contract negotiations and benefit protections.
The workers, members of service worker union 32BJ SEIU, are in the middle of contract negotiations with Parkhurst Dining, the company hired by Duquesne in 2013 to manage all its food services. The workers’ current contract expires in a month, according to 32BJ SEIU District Director Sam Williamson, and they want higher wages, job security, and a guarantee that they will keep their health benefits.
The rally included 32BJ SEIU food workers from the University of Pittsburgh, who are also in the middle of negotiations.
“We unite the food service workers from the two biggest campuses in the city to say these are good jobs and these jobs are here to stay,” Williamson said.
Both Williamson and representatives from Parkhurst seemed confident that the two parties will soon be able to come to an agreement.
Parkhurst spokeswoman Becky McArdle wrote in an email to The Duke, “We care about our employees and have been bargaining in good faith with the Union. We fully expect that we will reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.”
Duquesne spokeswoman Rose Ravasio clarified that the university is not involved in the negotiations, since the workers are employed by Parkhurst. Williamson said Duquesne has set a great example of a “living wage” with the university’s $16 minimum wage, and he wants Parkhurst to adopt a similar policy. Full-time Parkhurst employees currently earn an average of $15 per hour.
Debbie Byerly has worked in food service at Duquesne since she was 14 years old. Known to students as “Miss Debbie,” Byerly currently works in the Hogan Dining Hall every morning. She said she participated in the rally because she thinks it is important to show Parkhurst how important food workers are on campus.
“It’s very important that our people are respected in their needs also and it’s very important for our employer to realize that we’re here daily, talking with the students and serving the students,” Byerly said.