Food service workers at Northeastern University in Boston voted on October 10 to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement that will raise their annual wage to at least $35,000 by 2019.
The new agreement is the second collective bargaining agreement that the workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 26 has negotiated that establishes a minimum annual salary of $35,000 for university food service workers in the Boston area.
The agreements also provide for improved health care and pension benefits and should serve as a new standard for collective bargaining agreements that unions in the area negotiate for service workers.
At Northeastern, members of Local 26 had voted to strike unless their new collective bargaining agreement included a substantial pay increase.
They needed a big pay raise because their pay was so low that some of the workers were receiving public assistance.
They reasoned that their employer Chartwells, which operates university dining halls all over the US and is owned by the international food service conglomerate Compass Group, shouldn’t be paying poverty wages.
Their vote to strike was inspired by the success of Harvard food service workers who won a minimum annual salary of $35,000 a year ago as a result of a 22-day strike.
The Chartwells workers were prepared to begin their strike on October 11, two days before Northeastern was to host the annual meeting of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU).
According to the Clinton Foundation, CGIU meetings bring together “students, university representatives, top experts, and celebrities . . . to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges” including among other things “the alleviation of poverty.”
Had the strike taken place, Bill and Chelsea Clinton and others attending the meeting to discuss innovative strategies for alleviating poverty would have had to decide whether to cross the workers’ picket line to attend the meeting or to honor the picket line in order to stand in solidarity with workers fighting to alleviate their own poverty.
The union and Chartwells, however, reached an agreement just a few hours before the strike was to begin.
The new agreement includes a total wage increase of $5.56 an hour over five years for all workers. By 2019 all full-time workers will be making at least $35,000 a year.
In addition, the company will pay 97 percent of the workers’ health care costs and will begin contributing to UNITE HERE’s pension fund so that workers can start accruing retirement benefits.
The new contract also includes protections for immigrants, more sick days, better non-discrimination language in the contract that includes protections for gender identity and expression, additional sick days, and language that protects workers from lost wages when the state declares snow day emergencies.
“I am so proud of what we accomplished,” said Angela Bello, a Northeastern food service worker and member of the Local 26 bargaining team. “It’s amazing to feel the power that workers have when we get together and are well organized. The ways this contract will impact our lives is almost hard to believe. Thank you to everyone who supported us and believed in us.”
Brian Lang, president of Local 26, said that the new collective bargaining agreement at Northeastern will serve as the standard in the union’s next round of bargaining for service workers in the Boston area.
“Our union fights so that our members can have their fair share of the wealth they create. Last year that meant we struck Harvard University for 22 days. This week we threatened to do the same at Northeastern. Next on the list are the 34 Boston hotels where contracts expire in 2018.” said Lang.