More than 200 food service workers at two Smithsonian museums in Washington DC will soon be negotiating their first collective bargaining agreement with their employer, the Compass Group.
The workers, who work at the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History, joined UNITE HERE Local 25.
About one week before Christmas, the union announced that Compass Group, a global company that manages restaurants at the two museums, agreed to recognize and bargain with its workers’ union.
Food service and other low-wage workers working for private contractors at the 19 Smithsonian museums, galleries, and national zoo in the Washington DC area have engaged in a series of one-day strikes that began last spring. The workers are demanding a living wage.
“We deserve a living wage for the hard work we do,” said Luis (no last name given), who works at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s McDonald’s during the most recent strike on December 5. “It’s tough to keep a roof over our heads making $8.25 an hour.”
The work stoppages have been organized by Good Jobs Nation, a workers center supported by SEIU that helps low-wage workers working for federal contractors in the Washington DC area to organize and fight employer abuses.
A report by Amy Traub and Robert Hiltonsmith of Demos estimates that two million employees working for private businesses that contract with the federal government to provide services to the public throughout the US make $12 or less an hour.
A living wage calculator developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that a living wage in the Washington DC area is $13.68 an hour.
John W. Anderson, speaking to Washington Post reporter Michael Fletcher, said that he hopes a new collective bargaining agreement with Compass Group will lead to a raise, so that he and his son can move into an apartment of their own. He currently rents a room.
Anderson, a line cook at the American History Museum now makes $10.50 an hour. He told the Post what he hopes to gain by joining UNITE HERE.
“Our company has already taken some strides to help us,” he said. “Now I am excited that (joining the union) is another step closer to having somebody speaking for us so we can have some livable wages.”
Negotiations on the new contract are to begin in January.