Parkhurst employees’ protest proceeds down A-Walk; $0.30 pay increase not enough

Alicia Dye | staff writer. Melissa Aronld, Debra Byerly and Maria Blunt; Parkhurst employees, spoke out against the current pay wages. In addition, Pittsburgh City Council members Bobby Wilson and Deb Gross; and Allegheny County Council member Dewitt Walton spoke during the protest.

by Alicia Dye | staff writer

March 24, 2022

Parkhurst workers at Duquesne University have been fighting for a better wage and a better contract with their employer, Parkhurst, over the last week, leading to a protest on March 23 on A-Walk.

The workers handed out flyers to students March 18, which told students the ongoing issues and encouraged students to stand with the workers as they fight for a better contract. 

Parkhurst Dining and Parkhurst employees are still in negotiations for competitive wages and other benefits for the members of Duquesne Dining. 

“It has always been, and continues to be, our practice to meet with the union and confidentially resolve our differences at the bargaining table, without distractions. We look forward to continuing to meet and negotiate with the union to arrive at a new collective bargaining agreement,” Cindy Simak, the director of marketing for Parkhurst said in a press release. 

The same press release stated that the proposed $0.30 wage raise is already above the living wage for the Pittsburgh area.  

The release also said that there were no proposed reductions to paid time off. Additionally, there would be an additional option for team members to choose to enroll in the company-sponsored single health, dental and vision plans under the new contract, compared to the payment to the union for each full-time and regular part-time team member enrolled in coverage that employees currently have in their contract. 

The average Parkhurst cafeteria worker makes $17.60 an hour, $26,205 a year, according to a media advisory by 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. 

“A $0.30 wage increase is an insult. This is a risky job. They are essential workers who deserve a fair proposal,” said Ana Tinsly, a Regional Communications Manager for 32BJ SEIU.

The protest on March 23 was not just made up of Parkhurst cafeteria workers, as Pittsburgh City Council members and Allegheny County Council members joined the workers in protest and handed out ‘frownie’ cookies, a play on Eat’n Park’s classic ‘smiley’ cookies. They also eassed more flyers while chanting different phrases such as ‘I believe that we can win’ and ‘32BJ.’ Employees also carried a small sign that had a frownie face on one side, with the other side saying ‘32BJ SEIU.’ 

Speakers included Parkhurst employees Melissa Arnold, Debra Byerly and Maria Blunt; Pittsburgh City Council members Bobby Wilson and Deb Gross; and Allegheny County Council member DeWitt Walton. 

“I am here to say loudly and clearly that Parkhurst needs to step up and offer proposals that show respect for our hard work,” Blunt said during the protest.  “Know that the proposed offer from Parkhurst just won’t do.”

Arnold has worked at Duquesne for almost a decade, and now currently works at the Starbucks location on campus. Arnold wants to be able to feed her family, especially during an all time high of inflation rates in the U.S.

“$0.30 raise, when we can barely afford to put gas in our car or pay the rent, is an insult,” Arnold said.

Pittsburgh City Council member Bobby Wilson, who represents District One, better known as the North Shore area, spoke about how he wants to support the workers.

“We have to support the workers,” Wilson said. “You have my commitment. Whatever you guys need, I’m here.”

Byerly has worked for food services for almost 50 years. Byerly is a cancer survivor and said that with the new proposed healthcare change, she would not be able to afford treatment. 

“Having the union and healthcare that we have was actually a life saver,” Byerly said. “I would have paid over $100,000 in medical costs had it not been for my union health insurance. Having good health insurance kept that cost down for me to copayments of $75 or $100 at a time. Had I had a healthcare plan like the one Parkhurst is offering, that $100,000 bill would have been mine to pay.”

“I’ve been working here for 47 years,” Byerly said. “What we desperately need right now, today, is a company that respects us, our work, our contract and our union. We do not and have not had that with our current company,”

The event was also live-tweeted with the hashtag #ServingJustice.  

“Public support always helps,” Tinsly said. 

The university understands why the Parkhurst workers are protesting and has a good working relationship with SEIU and with Parkhurst, and expects them to reached an agreement at some point. 

“The importance of the union’s advocacy in advancing the interests of its workers is well understood,” said university spokesperson Gabriel Welsch. “The university respects the process in which SEIU and Parkhurst are engaged and is confident both parties can reach a mutually beneficial resolution.” 

Students can show their support for the food service workers by following @32BJSEIU on Twitter.