Workers pledge support for Capitol cafeteria boycott


With a rally at the state Capitol Wednesday, supporters ramped up the campaign to restore the jobs of 18 veteran cafeteria workers axed by an anti-union food service company.

Unions representing 30,000 state employees said their members will boycott the three Capitol complex cafeterias in the Centennial Building, Department of Transportation and 600 Building because of Taher, Inc.’s anti-union behavior.

“We’re advising all of our members that they should not use these cafeterias,” said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5. “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Added Bob Richards, president of MAPE Local 801: “Let’s stand together, united!”

June 30 was the last day on the job for the 18 long-term cafeteria employees, who learned the state had awarded the contract for operation of the cafeterias to Taher. The company declined to hire any of the workers and said it would bring staff from its other operations.

In addition, Taher refused to recognize the workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 17, which has represented the cafeteria workers since 1958. The state has changed contractors in the past, but the private companies always recognized the union and retained the workers, the union said.

Marilyn Arnold, a cafeteria employee for 27 years, said she’s not sure what to do next. “I need that job,” she said.

Ron Smith, a lead cook who has worked 16 years in the cafeterias, described the new management as “heartless.” He said he had been through many transitions and “never seen people treated like this.”

cafeteria workers rally at state Capitol
Cafeteria workers who have lost their jobs listened as Martin Goff, state Director of Organization for UNITE HERE Local 17, addressed a rally at the state Capitol.

Since the news broke, Taher has offered jobs to three of the workers, but the jobs are part-time and don’t offer health insurance and other benefits provided under the union contract, Local 17 said.

Lawmakers who spoke at the rally condemned Taher’s action and said the state should not award contracts to companies that don’t pay a living wage or provide health insurance or try to bust unions.

“The state of Minnesota should be setting an example for other companies in the state,” said Rep. Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park. “I support the boycott. We should hold Taher’s feet to the fire and not eat there.”

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said “If we have to pass legislation to make this illegal, we certainly will try to do that next time around.”

UNITE HERE Local 17 President Nancy Goldman said the request for proposals issued by the state Department of Administration did not require companies to pay a living wage, provide benefits or treat workers fairly. That opened the door, she said, for low bids based on exploiting workers.

“Maybe the state’s saving a little money, but in the end, we’re going to end up paying when they (unemployed cafeteria workers) go on MinnesotaCare and other subsidized benefits,” she said.

The union is urging people to call and e-mail CEO Bruce Taher and urge him to rehire the workers and recognize their union. Call 952-945-0505 or e-mail