HYDE PARK, N.Y. – The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) concluded its negotiations with the Culinary Craft Association (CCA), the labor union representing the university’s maintenance workers, at the end of October.
The positions of 17 grounds-keeping, recycling and painting services employees are to be outsourced, causing disputes between the CIA and CCA with the latter leading organized protests and appearances in local government forums. With the expiration of the CCA’s labor contract with the institution approaching in May 2018, the CIA decided to outsource the jobs over to an outside contractor, the Poughkeepsie-based LCS Facility Group.
An official decision came in on Oct. 28, allowing LCS to outsource these positions. While their jobs were terminated, the 17 CCA members were offered potential jobs at LCS or a severance package from the CIA.
“The CCA was formed in 1988,” said CCA President Raymond Minew. “Back in 2014, [almost] 60 of our members were outsourced, after that we partnered up with SEIU.”
Minew referenced another round of layoffs that took place in 2014, where several dozen housekeeping employees were laid off. CCA made connections with the Service Employee International Union, better known as SEIU Local 200United, a larger union that offers sponsorship and occasional financial resources to smaller ones.
“Most employees have been here for 20 years, some 30,” said Minew.
“On Sept. 15, [the CIA] gave them their six-weeks notice,” said CCA Chief Shop Steward Paul Rembisz.
On Oct. 25, three days before the decision on the outsourcing was to come in, the CCA Facebook page made a post noting most of the 17 employees whose jobs were at stake decided to accept the CIA’s offer of a severance package.
The severance package in question is outlined in a draft of the proposed settlement agreement. It details the amount of compensated pay former employees would be given based off the years they worked at the Culinary Institute. The plan, from an emailed document sent by Minew, shows that some of the veteran workers with over three decades of employment will be given two and a half months of salary, along with half a year of health coverage following job termination.
“There’s always going to be union issues because there’s always going to be people who like the union issues and people who don’t,” said an anonymous source. “It’s always going to be tumultuous when people are talking about pay and benefit…But again, the best outcome is that if they are going to layoff people, let LCS bring them on board.”
The LCS Facility Group has offered to hire any of the CCA members who have lost their jobs to these layoffs. What comes with the new job was a chief concern for CCA members and their families at the time.
“Its going to create a problem for a lot of these individuals to be able to keep their homes in this area,” said Tricia Lysenko at a Dutchess County Legislature meeting, whose husband is a CCA member, “to be able to live not just in their own town but within Dutchess County with some of the wages they’re being offered and lower medical benefits…”
During open statements to the Dutchess County Legislature on Oct. 10, Rembisz felt there to be a “conflict of interest” in employing LCS’ service. The owner and CEO of LCS is Giuseppe “Joe” Lepore. Lepore and his wife Maria have been listed as members of CIA’s Society of Fellows and contribute to a CIA scholarship in their name. Besides the Hyde Park campus, other CIA facilities are located in St. Helena and Napa Valley, Calif., and San Antonio, Texas, where LCS also operates and has job openings in all locations.
“[Lepore] is involved in many things, in terms of charities and giving up use of his time, gives up his time…he’s very mindful of where he came from and gives back constantly,” said an anonymous source. “I know in this context, it’s rubbing people the wrong because people are going to lose their jobs, but if the negotiations are done right on both sides of the table, those people will be absorbed into LCS. And that’s where the best outcome is for everybody.”
The Culinary Institute’s student populace is also reacting to these changes.
“I know some of these men and women personally and they have been working here for 10 plus years,” wrote CIA student RJ Sansotta. “These positions will be paying around $10 less then what they are now and these men and women just can’t afford.”
For the local community, their concern is making sure private universities, such as CIA, Marist College, Vassar College, are putting money back into it.
“On the other side as a student I want to know that my tuition money is being used as resourceful as possible,” wrote Sansotta. “I rather know my money is going towards the men and women that have been here for years and that have a passion for the school…versus just cutting corners for a bigger profit.”
The decision to outsource these jobs is an attempt at cutting operating costs and prevent the cost of tuition from rising, stated Jackie Nealon, CIA’s vice president of enrollment management, marketing, and communications. Just four years ago, students protested over tuition costs and what they claimed to be the Culinary Institute’s slipping academic standards.
“I had a six-month food service requirement and they removed that which didn’t sit well with me,” wrote CIA student Louis Santiago. “When I started it was so strict here and then it slipped so much…if you can cook Betty Crocker well you can choose to go here and…have no clue about a kitchen.”
“Before me, it had to be a year [food service requirement]…so really anyone can pullup as long as they got the money,” wrote Sansotta. “But I also do know a lot of chefs that were [angry] because they have to deal with a lot more food network kids rather than kids who worked in the industry and realized that this is their calling.”
“The Culinary as a whole is very chef oriented, even the chefs years ago…felt like they were investing in to this landscaping rather than doing right by the chefs,” said an anonymous source, referencing the installation of Evergreen trees on campus. “And the chefs had some picketing and some signage out.”
On its website, the Culinay Institute lists the current tuition costs at $29,250 without financial aid. Both Sansotta and Santiago agree tuition has increased by about $10,000 during the years they have attended.
“Always…[the tuition] has been [rising],” said an anonymous source. “As an entity, the CIA has had a number of layoffs in the last 12 months. Unrelated to the union issue…they announced that they’re having strategic layoffs within the company.”
Evident from screenshots of conversations and forwarded emails, Minew tried to increase student engagement by reaching out to college discourse groups and student governments, including Bard College and Vassar College’s Student/Labor Dialogue. When contacting Marist’s Student Government Association through its Facebook page, they had a brief response to Minew’s lengthy message: “we are not interested.”
“If you were a student that didn’t leave campus, you would not have known about these protests,” wrote Sansotta, whose summation of CIA students could be applied to the other colleges in the local area. “There’s a large group that does not know what’s happening in front of the campus.”
In a message posted on the CIA’s website addressed to students and Hyde Park residents, chef and provost Mark Erickson explained the university’s side of the story the concerns for the employees who were going to be laid off.
“Difficult choices must be made and are never made lightly or without a thorough consideration of all sides of the issue…We recognize that there are many employees who will be personally affected by this decision ,” it read regarding the layoffs. ” All of these employees have served the CIA well and their service and dedication is deeply appreciated. The CIA has ensured that all affected union employees will receive a job offer from LCS as well as severance and benefit continuation.”
Erickson ended the message by stating, “We are committed to controlling costs and keeping tuition affordable while maintaining quality standards.”
On Nov. 1, only four days after CIA made the decision to employ LCS workers, the CCA Facebook page made a post claiming the CIA and LCS had gone back on their word to employ former CCA members full time.
“[There’s] always union problems wherever you go,” an anonymous source repeated.