It was a Thursday morning and from the Little Theatre there was a heartbeat. Breasted drums filled the air as the people in attendance made their way to their seats with an orange hue from the stage lights highlighting their faces. The chatter in the theater was its own song competing with the rhythm of […]
MBJ Management Hunt Turns Up Empty
Allegations of undocumented workers being mistreated by MBJ Food Services, LaGuardia Community College’s catering company, fuels CUNY-wide activism on campus.
On January 31st, 2018, nearly sixty students, professors, activists and workers all assembled on the third floor cafeteria of the C-building to confront MBJ management—who were nowhere to be found—over accusations of the mistreatment of undocumented workers. Demonstrators were gathered there to present a letter of unfair labor practice filed with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board and protest on behalf of the cafeteria staff, who have been allegedly mistreated and mishandled by the MBJ catering company within the CUNY system.
MBJ, who are responsible for catering and staffing LaGuardia’s cafeterias, has been accused of instability and exploiting undocumented workers. The Retail Action Project, an activist group advocating for undocumented workers’ rights, accused MBJ management of paying employees under the table, wrongful termination, and other issues dealing with wage consistencies. When workers initialized the steps to unionize, the management at MBJ started requesting social security numbers to try to discourage undocumented workers from pursuing these issues.
The unfair labor practice recently filed against MBJ by the Retail Action Project for the unethical employment practices of MBJ claims that MBJ creates an unstable work environment that leaves their employees unsure about their wages, their schedules, and whether or not they will even be employed with the company in the next semester. The predominant issue is the uncertainty of employment and the instability of the MBJ workers’ positions and wages.
At a recent incident at John Jay College in the summer of 2017, MBJ management fired an employee who was with the company for six years and asked the employee to re-interview for the same position with a cut in pay. Although a petition organized by the Retail Action Project and a group of the employee’s co-workers was presented to MBJ resulted in the reversal of MBJ’s decision, many employees do not get that lucky. While MBJ is not alone in being accused of this type of behavior, MBJ is the only company currently being accused of behavior unethical enough to warrant a letter of unfair labor practice to be filed with U.S. National Labor Relations Board by the Retail Action Project.
Groups like the Retail Action Project and the Internationalist Club from Hunter College, an activist group that is currently fighting for the rights for Muslims and migrant workers, came to assist with the demonstration at LaGuardia and are organizing to defend undocumented workers’ rights within the CUNY system.
When asked why he thought the management was not showing up to engage the demonstration, Will Throtton, an organizer from the Internationalist Club from Hunter College, said, “In this climate today, management feels more comfortable in attacking immigrants, and so of course they are not going to want to present themselves to receive this letter. What it really takes is workers’ action, and organizing workers, to organize their strength, to go up against management in a case like this.”
The aim of these groups is to make the CUNY system hold vendors like MBJ accountable and to encourage these vendors to follow a more progressive and inclusive philosophy like the one followed by the CUNY system. The Retail Action Project is putting in the effort to give undocumented workers a better and fairer employment environment through job stability, contract consistency, and a pathway for workers unionize. The Retail Action Project also hopes to quell the alleged anti-immigrant behavior against migrant-workers not only at LaGuardia but also at a number of other CUNY school cafeterias, such as John Jay College, BMCC, and City Tech College, which are all staffed and managed by MBJ’s catering company.
While the demonstrations on January 31st, 2018, were not as productive as the activists had hoped, Adam Thorn, another organizer with the Retail Action Project states they plan on following through, and they will be bringing in disenfranchised MBJ workers to testify before the National Labor Relations Board. These groups are also planning future demonstrations to keep pushing this effort forward. MBJ management was not available when called for a statement, and the cafeteria staff declined to comment.