Victories in University Food Service: “We Discovered How Powerful We Really Were”

Great news from Northwestern and Harvard!

Will reports from Chicago:

“After 8 months of organizing and fighting, workers here at Northwestern won an amazing contract.

“After several negotiating sessions, including a marathon pair of sessions that totaled 24 hours over two days, workers on the negotiating committee finalized a deal that includes a new wage floor of $10.00 per hour on day one, up from $8.40, a combined raise of $2.30 over the four year contract, amazing protection for immigrant workers, and free health care for every full-time worker by the end of the contract.

“When students and workers started organizing together in January, the contract seemed impossibly far away. For many of us, it was our first real contract fight. As we dug ourselves into the work, however, the bonds between us tightened and we discovered how powerful we really were. This victory has changed the lives of both the workers and the students at Northwestern, and it has energized everyone here to fight harder to keep the movement rolling.”

In Boston, 550 members of Local 26 settled a groundbreaking contract with Harvard University. In their contract campaign, they called on Harvard to provide sustainable food and create sustainable jobs. Real earnings had fallen over the last several years as Harvard cut back the number of hours worked.

Dining hall workers partnered with Harvard students who organized delegations, participated in demonstrations, sat on the bargaining committee, and even leafleted Harvard president Drew Faust. Workers from Local 35 at Yale came to Harvard to attend rallies and participate in contract negotiations. As part of the contract settlement, Harvard agreed to create a joint committee with the union to adopt best practices for environmentally responsible food sourcing and preparation. Harvard also agreed to give Local 26 members priority hiring for jobs during the summer and winter recess, as well as language requiring that Local 26 members be offered work, including overtime, before temporary jobs can be assigned. Other key components to the ground-breaking contract included better protections for immigrant workers, better sick day coverage, seniority that workers carry with them throughout Harvard departments, significant wage increases, and a preservation of the quality health insurance with no increased payment by workers.”

Boston Summer Organizer Neal describes his experience fighting for victory at Harvard:

“Workers, students and allies from across New England had a lot to celebrate last week when the 550 dining hall workers at Harvard University settled a new contract. The September victory was won through worker organization and participation, as well as the activity of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) at Harvard and the support of other unions across Boston and the workers from Local 35 at Yale.

“The new contract increases wages and protects workers’ excellent health care benefits. It also commits Harvard to hiring dining hall workers for summer jobs, so that those workers will now have an income throughout the year, rather than just while school is in session. The most innovative part of the contract establishes a joint worker-management committee which will put Harvard on the path to a more systematic commitment to serving sustainable food – food that will be bought locally and prepared at Harvard. This is a significant victory for workers who know that this will mean more full-time work in the future and who want to be cooking high quality meals. It is also a victory for the student and environmental movements at Harvard, which have long sought ways to reduce our university’s environmental impact. Together, worker and student power won the day.

“As a student, I was particularly proud to see months of worker-student cooperation culminate in such a good contract, which won the overwhelming support of the union membership. I have been a member of SLAM for four years, and this past year was definitely the most active and exciting year of them all. We organized large contingents to march in several parades alongside our union allies, and also joined in pickets and protests. Three of our members even sat on the bargaining committee throughout the negotiations. During the summer, teams of students and union organizers went out to workers’ homes to talk about the fight for a new contract. Many thanks are owed to the workers and organizers who invited us to join in this historic fight, and found really substantial ways for us to make an impact on the fight.

“We learned a lot, and we won. Who could ask for more?”