June 4, 2010 Volume 111 Number 11

Convention Center servers cry foul as Aramark pockets their tips

About 130 union members and supporters rallied outside the Oregon Convention Center May 21 to show support for a group of union kitchen, banquet and concession workers employed there by contractor Aramark.

The 200-member group, members of Portland-based UNITE HERE Local 9, has been working under the terms of a contract that expired Aug. 31, 2009. Most members earn minimum wage but share the proceeds of a 20 percent gratuity charged to banquet users of the convention center. Workers say the gratuity can work out to $6 to $17 an hour. But management keeps about a quarter of the gratuity, says Local 9 Representative Shellea Allen, and uses only a fraction of it to pay for employee health insurance benefits.

“Are you tired of having your pocket picked?” Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain asked rally-goers.

Banquet servers like Laura Williams see it as illegitimate for management to take a cut of a service charge that banquet customers believe is going to workers.

In bargaining, the union is asking for raises totaling $1.25 an hour for non-tipped workers over the course of the proposed three-year contract, and 45 cents an hour for tipped workers. It’s also proposing to make health benefits available to more part-time workers. And it wants the employer to join the Lloyd Transportation Management Association, which would enable workers to get a substantially discounted bus pass.

Aramark has agreed to account for how it spends the gratuity, but also proposes to take a greater share of it.

“We’re not going to take it!” Williams declared to co-workers at the rally. “We’re not giving our service charge back.”

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