New York, NY – Food service workers, students, members of CUNY Rising and the New York City Central Labor Council, representatives from unions and others rallied on Tuesday, May 8, outside of John Jay College for Criminal Justice on West 59th Street in Manhattan, demanding that the CUNY college no longer employ the food service vendor MBJ.
The company, along with other food service vendors at various CUNY colleges, has been cited for numerous labor law violations, and although John Jay College President Karol Mason had agreed to replace them, they nevertheless continue to be retained
Phil Andrews, director of the Retail Organizing Project, part of the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union (RWDSU), told LaborPress that John Jay gets a 10-percent kickback from the company’s retail revenue, and that MJB cuts corners with staff in order to maintain high profits. All the CUNY colleges receive some revenue this way, but the John Jay number is very high, he says, and well above the national level, which generally runs from between three- to five- percent.
Not only that, but responsible vendors that have union contracts are available to work in the CUNY system; however, the fact that CUNY demands such high kickbacks rules out an alliance, preventing those vendors from providing decent wages and maintaining food safety standards.
The crowd chanted “Hey, hey, John Jay, You must fire MBJ,” and held up signs that read, “MBJ = More Bad Jobs,” and “These vendors are criminal” – a reference to the Criminal Justice college. Representatives from Local 1102, RSDSU, and PSC-CUNY (Professional Staff Congress) also held up signs identifying their unions in a show of support.
Stewart Applebaum, president, RWDSU, spoke, saying that the school had “enabled egregious crimes against the food service workers,” and cited wage theft, immigration status discrimination, health and safety violations – such as having rat-infested kitchens in the school – as examples of labor law violations. “John Jay should take the ‘justice’ out of its name and be called the John Jay School for Criminals,” he said. Applebaum also said that MBJ was “just one example of kickbacks and low-grade employers that CUNY contracts with across its campuses.” He said the college’s claim that it simply “failed to find” other suitable vendors is outrageous. “RWDSU works with food employers across the city that provide proper wages, benefits, and health and safety standards; we demand decent wages, benefits, paid sick days, and labor peace on all CUNY campuses.”
Public Advocate Tish James and Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer also made appearances, demanding that John Jay cancel the contract. “Fifty percent of these workers live in households below the poverty line; some are also students or former students,” said James, who noted that she herself is a CUNY graduate. “They’ve been subjected to intimidation, wage theft, and unfair labor practices.” Brewer said, “Many are on Medicaid; they’ve testified [at a hearing] that there are injuries on the job, and those that spoke up were threatened with termination.”
Eileen Crosby from Local 1102 said, “Not paying overtime or providing sick days is illegal in this city,” and added, “It’s disgusting that a supposed school of justice would continue to use a criminal company.”