On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Café Mac ended the contracts of nine Bon Appétit workers. The workers had been hired through Opportunity Partners, a Minnesota nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities. On Thursday, Feb. 18, a group of Macalester students, including Café Mac employees and members of the Income Inequality Commission (IIC), presented a petition with two lists of signatures to Chuck Parsons, General Manager of Bon Appétit at Macalester.
The petition was presented by Jessie Miller ’16, a Café Mac student manager.
“The reasons cited for the dismissal being [sic] financial and the Opportunity Partners program as too expensive,” the petition reads. “We, the undersigned, believe it was wrong to fire these workers from their jobs as they have been loyal and hard-working employees. No advance notice was given and Café Mac workers deserve better than that. In their time, they have become a valuable part of the Macalester College community and neither co-workers nor Macalester students want to see these workers removed.”
In an email to The Mac Weekly, Parsons wrote, “The relationship between our companies has been based on two priorities — our need to fill vacant jobs to provide service to our customers, and to help our community by supporting a service-oriented organization that focuses on helping individuals with disabilities. We use Opportunity Partners here at Café Mac for the same reasons. In fact, we have several long-term and new employees who started with us through Opportunity Partners.”
Since the beginning of the school year, Bon Appétit has hired 17 new employees, two of whom are from Opportunity Partners.
Miller disputes Parsons’ argument, saying that they ought to have fired the Café Mac workers directly, and with notice.
On Feb. 9, “the manager from Opportunity Partners, who’s a really nice guy named Anthony, came up to me, and he was like, ‘Hey, I just wanna let you know that we’ve been fired and that they’ve all really enjoyed working with you, and I know that they really love you when they see you,’” Miller said. “I was like, ‘Wait, what? Why are you being fired? What is happening?’”
Miller said that Café Mac should fulfill its need for full-time direct employees by hiring the Opportunity Partners workers who she says were fired.
She pointed out the semantics of the term “contracted out,” which has been used by Café Mac to refer to the occurrence.
“They were contracted out, and technically advanced notice is not required, and, yes, legally Bon Appétit can end their contract with them at any time. However, in effect, all the workers lost their jobs, so I consider it a firing,” Miller said.
Haleigh Duncan ’16, a member of the IIC and the Macalester Students Against Income Inequality Coalition, helped to organize the petition and its presentation after receiving a call from Miller.
Duncan stated that the IIC plans to “apply pressure to Bon Appétit, through their relationship with Macalester, by meeting with administrators here. Just to let them know that it’s not just overwhelming student support around this issue. It’s also the other end of their contract. People are watching.”
She added that while the Opportunity Partners workers weren’t hired as full-time workers, “it’s highly unusual to ever fire people en masse. It’s really strange.”
In an email to The Mac Weekly, Chuck Parsons defended the decision further.
“Our response remains essentially what we wrote to The Mac Weekly — Bon Appétit did not ‘fire’ any employees, the employees from this temporary labor agency are still retained by the agency and will be assigned to new positions at other companies and may even return here, as we still have a working relationship with Opportunity Partners. We have also reduced our relationship with Express Services, which also provided temporary employees.”
Parsons concluded by saying that Bon Appétit could have communicated the situation to Opportunity Partners and Macalester students earlier on. “That way everyone would have had the chance to learn about the changes and say ‘goodbye, until we meet again’ if they wished.”
When contacted for comment, Communications Director of Opportunity Partners Julie Peters responded by email.
“We continue to operate six other successful Bon Appétit locations around the Twin Cities, and we are extremely grateful for their commitment to our organization. We are disappointed Bon Appétit at Macalester decided to terminate our relationship, although we understand that change is sometimes needed as companies manage the ebbs and flows of their business,” Peters wrote. “It is wonderful that the Macalester community has embraced our employees and recognized them as hard working individuals. We hope to be able to work with them again.”