11/02/2012 11:13 am ET Updated Jan 02, 2013

Betty Is Back, but It Was a Struggle

A UM dining services cashier was reinstated on Monday, but it revealed the weaknesses in her employer's appeals system.

UM dining services cashier Betty Asbury was reinstated by her employer, Chartwells, on Monday after she was fired earlier this month for allegedly allowing a customer walk past her register without paying for breakfast.

The reinstatement comes after Chartwells sent a corporate human resources team to investigate her termination last week. An initiative to reinstate Asbury lead by the student organization Students Towards a New Democracy (STAND) pressured Chartwells to reconsider their termination of Asbury.

Asbury returns to UM dining services today, but not to her regular cashier post, as she was not offered that position.

I wholeheartedly believe that the reinstatement of Asbury would have been impossible without the contributions of students. Students contributed in a variety of ways such as producing news content, attending rallies and signing a petition that was hand-delivered to the UM dining services office. Chartwells decision to send a corporate human resources team to investigate the termination only came after more than 2,700 petition signatures had been signed, news stations covered student rallies and Student Government requested Chartwells to conduct an investigation.

Even though Asbury will return to work, I am very skeptical of Chartwells' investigation. Since the investigation was conducted internally, and not through an independent agency I believe that it could have been subject to the manipulation of facts. My skepticism is aggravated by Chartwells refusal to release the results of the termination appeal.

They did however release a statement saying:

A thorough review has been completed, and Chartwells has concluded that while the original dismissal decision was appropriate, after careful consideration of all aspects of Ms. Asbury's work record, she will be given the opportunity for continued employment within campus dining services.

The fact that this statement does not make an explicit agreement or denial of the allegations of the customer walking past Asbury's cashier without paying for breakfast raises my suspicious that the allegations leading to her dismissal were false.

While students are treating the reinstatement of Asbury as a victory, it does little in the long run to protect Chartwells workers from unfair labor practices. Chartwells employees are still at-will workers, meaning that they can be dismissed at any moment for any particular reason. The struggle to get Asbury a termination investigation reveals the brokenness of the Chartwells appeals system. The only way to avoid another snafu such as Asbury's dismissal is if UM students and administrators collaborate with Chartwells leadership to determine what long-term solutions there are to guarantee fair labor practices.

The more than 3,800 signatories of the petition must be pleased to hear that Asbury is returning, however they must know that Chartwells employees are still as vulnerable as ever to unfair labor practices.