“I just want to travel, and I want to see the world and enjoy myself,” he said. “I have a savings account to retire, and I wish I had more saved up.”
Barnes, 49, said he wants to retire at age 65 and travel to Africa, Paris and New York. However, his retirement is dependent on his financial stability.
Barnes is one of UNC’s approximately 420 employees working for Aramark, the contract agency for Carolina Dining Services. He began as a dishwasher 11 years ago, but was eventually promoted to baking.
“I used to work at Burger King, and I can pay all my bills now,” he said. “Burger King was a harder job.”
Every morning, Barnes walks from his Chapel Hill home to campus. He is usually on his feet seven hours a day with one chance to sit down during his 30-minute lunch break.
“Sometimes, I feel like we’re not appreciated as we should,” he said. “Just work a week in our shoes, and they’ll know what it’s like.”
Freshman Evana Bodiker said she and her friends began writing “we heart CDS workers. Please pay them fairer wages” on the CDS feedback board, Napkin Talk. The majority were taken down without comment, but one got a reply of “We <3 you too! Thanks for being concerned.”
“Every experience I’ve had with workers has been really positive,” Bodiker said. “It’s frustrating to see other students not treat them with respect and their employers not paying them properly for the amount of work they do.”
CDS beginning employee wages rose to $10 from $8.50 in the fall of 2012. Scott Weir, a resident district manager for Aramark, said pay has not been an issue raised at recent semiannual employee forums.
“We feel that our highly competitive wages and comprehensive benefit package is part of the reason for our employee turnover rate being approximately half the industry average,” Weir said in an email statement.
Daniel Farrington said he works 39 hours a week as the safety coordinator for Rams Head Dining Hall.
“It’s like a home to me,” he said.
Farrington said he is not provided free parking. It costs $13 per day to park in the Rams Head deck, so he takes the bus from his Carrboro home. He said even heavy snow does not prevent him from coming in to work.
“I’m going to get here, some way, somehow, and I’m going to get here on time,” he said.
Catherine Crowe, a member of UNC’s Student Action with Workers, said she would like to see UNC offer dining hall employees workplace improvements like a living wage and translated employee materials for workers who do not speak English.
“We believe in the concept that if you’re working full-time, you should make enough money to support your family,” she said. “They deserve it. They work hard and work to make the campus a better place.”
Nicki Morris, a member of Emerson College’s Progressives and Radicals in Defense of Employees, worked on a nine-month campaign to unionize Emerson’s approximately 100 food service workers.
A public union was created in April 2014 and Emerson’s food management company, Sodexo, recognized the union in September. Morris said unions are important for ensuring employee rights.
“It gives people a way to deal with grievances in the workplace,” Crowe said. “Even more, it’s having a say what happens to them and justice where they work.”
North Carolina is a right-to-work state, which means it is illegal for companies to employ someone dependent on membership or nonmembership in any labor union or organization. But Crowe said she would like to see students mobilize and push for the creation of a union for CDS employees.
“We have this very specific power to make changes in the university system without the fear of being kicked out or fired,” she said.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story mischaracterized the laws about unions in North Carolina. Unions are legal, but it is illegal for companies to employ someone dependent on membership or nonmembership in any labor union or organization. The story has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
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