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Monday, April 15, 2024
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Anthony Randolph

Aramark worker’s controversial removal from AU position sparks calls for reinstatement

Anthony Randolph worked at university for 17 years before he was released in September

A local union and student activists are alleging that American University breached contract and wrongfully fired an employee after an Aramark food service worker was told he could no longer work at AU in early September.

Anthony Randolph, known as “Smoke” to his coworkers, worked in food service and delivery at AU for 17 years and was an elected representative of food service workers in his union, Unite Here Local 23. On Sept. 7, Randolph said he was told by Turq Daniels, the Aramark director at AU, that he was no longer employed at AU due to four outstanding parking tickets amounting to $1,400 and an accusation that he fled from a parking enforcement specialist.

But according to Randolph, he did not flee from the parking enforcement officer and was not warned that the parking tickets were grounds to fire him or transfer him to another Aramark location. Instead, Randolph and Unite Here Local 23 claim that he was fired from his position without just cause.

“I’m just trying to get back to work as quickly as possible,” Randolph said in early September. “I have a family, too, so I can’t be unemployed.” 

Randolph wasn’t technically fired from his position, as AU doesn’t have the ability to fire Aramark workers. He was, however, effectively released from employment at the University, and has since been transferred to Georgetown University, where he began working on Oct. 25.

Randolph’s removal from AU comes as the union and Aramark prepare to renegotiate the workers’ contract at the University. Bert Bayou, the union’s D.C. Food Service president, said that since Aramark is a contractor with AU, the union’s negotiating power could be hurt by the allegations against Randolph.

In the weeks since Randolph’s removal, student activists and union workers have rallied around him, presenting a petition with over 450 signatures to administrators. The controversy has reached the highest levels of administration, with University President Sylvia Burwell addressing the situation at an Oct. 23 meeting concerning AU’s strategic plan.

“[I] can appreciate that folks have raised the issue, but I can’t talk about specifics,” she said.

Activists say that despite difficulty communicating with Aramark and a lack of transparency about Randolph’s release, they hope to help Randolph get his job back.

“We all love Anthony — students love him, staff love him — and we want him back on campus,” said Kevin Nelson, an organizer for the union and a chef at AU. 

Anthony Randolph's granddaughter looks at a flyer calling for his release that was passed out in front of the McKinley building on Oct. 5. DAN PAPSCUN/THE EAGLE

Randolph’s history with Aramark and AU

Aramark employees at AU have had a historically contentious relationship with university administration and their direct employer, Aramark, The Eagle previously reported. Workers’ terminations have sparked controversy in the past, such as the September 2016 firing of Aramark employee Ana Ebanks.

Randolph is no stranger to difficulties with the University and Aramark, he said. Last year, an employee named Dana Faulkner was transferred to another Aramark location after an encounter with a parking enforcement officer at AU, according to union officials and Randolph. Randolph said he vouched for Faulkner after Faulkner was accused of fleeing from parking enforcement when the officer attempted to penalize him for parking in a restricted area.

The officer did not respond to repeated requests for comment, including an email with questions about the Randolph allegations and multiple phone calls. Mark Story, a university spokesperson, said the University’s policy is to not comment on personnel matters, including the allegations against the officer and the ongoing situation with Randolph.

“I can state that we take all claims seriously and encourage members of our community to report if they believe they have been treated in a way that is inconsistent with our values and conduct standards,” Story said.

Story added that when the University is made aware of allegations against employees, all claims are investigated by the Office of Human Resources.

“We take seriously any allegations of improper conduct raised by a member of our community and will take appropriate action to prevent, to correct, and if necessary, to discipline individuals who violate this policy,” Story said.

Randolph detailed an incident last summer when the same officer walked into the Terrace Dining Room and began reading off Randolph’s tickets to the other food service employees in what Randolph thinks was an attempt to discredit and embarrass him. Three other employees at AU confirmed the details of the incident.

Randolph and other food service workers made a complaint against the officer to another employee in the Public Safety department, according to Randolph and Sarah Jacobson, the union director in D.C.

Josh Finver, the manager of Parking and Traffic Services at AU, declined to comment for this story when reached by phone.

In a Sept. 6 incident that preceded Randolph’s release from AU, Randolph said he parked in the same location Faulkner had a year before — a restricted parking zone next to the UPS store in the Bender tunnel. Randolph said he wanted to help another employee with medical issues, Carmen McRae, by parking where she wouldn’t have to walk too far. McRae confirmed Randolph’s account about the events that day to The Eagle.

After pulling into the zone, Randolph said that the officer pulled into the space behind him at high speed. The officer refused to acknowledge him or explain what was going on, Randolph said.

Once McRae had joined him in the car, Randolph said he drove away without speaking to the officer. 

Randolph was told he could no longer work at AU due to unpaid parking tickets and an allegation that he fled from a parking enforcement officer. ROCKEY GREENBERG/THE EAGLE

Who requested Randolph’s release?

The next day, after arriving at work, Randolph was called into Daniels’ office and told he was no longer employed at the University. He was accused of “fleeing the scene of an attempted boot” to his car, according to a grievance the union filed with Aramark.

When The Eagle contacted the AU Dining office to speak with Daniels, the office referred The Eagle to Story.

In their Sept. 7 meeting, Daniels said he believed Randolph’s account of events, but had to follow through and release Randolph from his employment, according to the union grievance. Daniels cited unpaid parking tickets attributed to Randolph as the reason for his release, according to Randolph and the union.

Randolph said that in the last two years, he’s accrued four parking tickets for a total of approximately $1,400. He failed to pay them until a few days after his termination, so the amount he was fined increased. Both Randolph and the union dispute the claim that the tickets are a worthy reason for release from employment. 

Originally, Randolph was told he was banned from campus, he said. But Randolph’s “ban” was a miscommunication, Daniels later told Randolph — he simply didn’t have a position at the University anymore. Phillip Morse, the head of the AU Police Department, also told The Eagle that Randolph was never banned from campus.

The University can only bar someone from working if they have “just cause,” according to Bayou, the union official, and the contract between Local 23 and Aramark. Otherwise, Bayou said, AU has no authority over employment decisions, except if the employee is “unfit to render services.”

An email between Ann Marie Powell, the director of OneCard and Dining Services, and Daniels shows that the Auxiliary Services department requested that Randolph be removed from his AU position. In the Sept. 6 email, which was shown to Randolph and provided to The Eagle, Powell writes that the “Executive Director of Auxiliary Services has requested that Anthony Randolph not be allowed be on campus.”

Charles Smith, the executive director of Auxiliary Services, declined to comment for this article. Powell also declined to comment when reached by phone.

Story, the AU spokesperson, said he “cannot comment on an email from one third party to another.”

“I can tell you that no one in AU Auxiliary Services has the authority to prohibit anyone from coming on to the AU campus,” Story said. “In September, two individuals from the AU Public Safety Office met with Mr. Randolph and a union representative. Mr. Randolph was informed by both that he was in no way barred from campus and was free to come on campus.” 

Students protest Aramark in relation to the Anthony Randolph controversy at the Katzen Arts Center during All-American Weekend on Oct. 20. SASHA JONES/THE EAGLE

Randolph is still employed by Aramark but was at first offered conditional transfer, he says

While Randolph was removed from his position at AU, he remains an employee of Aramark, said Karen Cutler, the company’s vice president of communications and public affairs.

“He is still employed by Aramark and we offered to transfer him to another location but the union who represents him rejected it,” Cutler wrote in an email. She later confirmed that Randolph had been transferred to another location on Oct. 25.

But Bayou, the union official, said that Aramark’s initial transfer offer required the union to dismiss their grievance, something they were unwilling to do. Jacobson, the union director, said that despite an eventual transfer by Aramark, the entire process took almost two months.

But even after being transferred elsewhere, Randolph said he would continue to fight for his position at AU.

“I need a job, I love my work,” Randolph said before he was offered a transfer. “I would’ve taken it if they offered, but I would’ve requested to be transferred back to AU.”

One of Bayou’s biggest issues with the situation was how Aramark handled it. Cutler, the Aramark spokesperson, said Randolph “is not permitted to work on the campus at AU because he repeatedly violated university policy despite numerous warnings from the university.”

But Bayou said that “there’s [been] a total lack of due process, and no investigation” by the company of what happened. In the union grievance, Bayou argued that Aramark was “obligated to deny” AU’s request to remove Randolph from campus due to the collective bargaining agreement between Aramark and its employees. 

“The contract allows American University ‘to reject the services of personnel supplied by [Aramark]’ if the ‘employee is not deemed acceptable for rendering the required services,’” Bayou wrote. “The University does not claim that Mr. Randolph cannot provide food service in an acceptable manner. Its complaint about Mr. Randolph has nothing to do with Mr. Randolph’s acceptability for ‘rendering the required services.’” 

Sarah Jacobson, a leader in Unite Here Local 23, speaks next to Anthony Randolph at an organizing meeting in early October. SASHA JONES/THE EAGLE

Workers, students organize to call for Randolph’s reinstatement

In response to Randolph’s release, students and union representatives have banded together with food service employees to call for his reinstatement. The union wrote and circulated a petition to reinstate Randolph that earned more than 450 signatures.

On Sept. 21, three weeks after Auxiliary Services requested Randolph be removed from AU, a group of approximately 20 people took the petition to the offices of Auxiliary Services. The group included students, service workers, professors and union representatives, along with Randolph himself.

Once they arrived at the offices on New Mexico Avenue, the group attempted to speak to Powell, the AU Dining director. When approached, however, Powell said she needed to use the restroom and walked away.

The group then entered the offices of the university’s general counsel, where Morse, the head of AUPD, was standing. After delivering the petition to him, the group spoke with Morse, who promised to deliver the petition to Auxiliary Services.

“We’ve had other issues with Parking Services,” said Nelson, the union organizer and AU chef, following the delivery of the petition. “It really hurts us all that a parking ticket could remove [Anthony] from office, especially someone who’s been here for so long.”

A few weeks later, the group met again in the basement of the Mary Graydon Center, this time with other plans in mind. They formulated a protest strategy advocating for Randolph’s reinstatement and workers’ rights at AU.

The next day, on Oct. 5, a group of more than 20 activists met at the circle outside the McKinley Building. There, during the lead-up to the screening of a Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary, they handed out more than 400 leaflets asking for public assistance in fighting for Randolph’s rights.

The group included many of the people who delivered the union’s petition to Auxiliary Services and Morse weeks earlier, along with additional student representatives from the AU chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. 

“I feel like that’s the kind of thing that students should be doing, is getting involved with the on-campus labor movement, union movement, and workers movements,” said Tom Lebert, a sophomore and co-founder of YDSA.

Jacobson, the Local 23 Director in D.C., rallied the activists and handed out leaflets on Oct. 5. She too articulated the points made by Bayou and what she said is a lack of “due process” for Randolph.

“Just-cause rights are in jeopardy at American University,” Jacobson said. “We have to keep trying. We can’t just give up.”

As Randolph continues to fight to come back to AU, he said he still does not comprehend how he was removed from his position.

“I’m responsible and reliable,” Randolph said. “I can’t understand why this would happen. I’ve been here 17 years, why would I be a risk?”

Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 

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