Dining workers secure new union contract

The college’s dining workers renegotiated their union contract with Bon Appétit Management Company in May 2019 to provide them with more benefits after their previous contract expired last April. 

The renegotiation comes after similar contracts were renegotiated at Harvard University, Northeastern University, and other Boston-area colleges associated with Unite Here Local 26, a union representing hospitality workers around Boston. The Boston Marriott workers who went on strike last year were also represented by Local 26. 

The new contract, which expires in 2024, increases workers’ pay, institutes a pension plan, offers more vacation time, and provides access to more affordable health care. The new contract increases the lowest hourly wage for the dining workers from $14.35 to $21.30 over the course of the 5-year contract, according to Michael Kramer, organizing director for Local 26.

“The contract at Emerson really needs to be looked at in the context of the rest of the university food service industry in Boston over the last couple of years,” Kramer said in a phone interview. “There’s been a real movement of university dining hall workers—who are members of Local 26—demanding that conditions in that industry be significantly different.”

Kramer said that one of the central demands of all university dining workers is to be able to earn $35,000 a year, which is the median Boston income. In order to reach this goal, Kramer said that the new contract calls for an increase of the minimum wage every six months and allows more employees to work full-time.

“These are the people who are making students feel at home at some very wealthy institutions and the city and are struggling to survive in a city that is growing more and more expensive all the time,” he said. “Somebody who’s working at a university with a big endowment and a lot of money should be at least earning the median for a working person in this city.”

Kramer said that before the contract was renegotiated, the workers filled out a survey expressing what benefits they hoped to obtain, followed by the formation of a bargaining committee. 

Daniel Suazo, the chief union representative of the dining workers, said that Bon Appétit initially fought against the demands of the workers and only agreed to meet their demands after the workers banded together to assert their union membership.  

“In the beginning, they said no. Everything that we proposed, they said, ‘We’re rejecting, rejecting.’ After that, I requested the button,” Suazo said, referring to his Local 26 pin. “And I told everyone, ‘We need the button, we need to show the boss that we are ready to fight [together].’”

Dawn Sajdyk, resident district manager of Bon Appétit, was not immediately available for comment. 

Assistant Vice President of Facilities and Campus Services Duncan Pollock said that the college is happy with the outcome of the negotiations. 

“We value those employees, and they’re a very important part of what we do here at the college in serving the students and the rest of the community,” he said in a phone interview. 

Pollock clarified that, although Emerson contracts Bon Appétit as a food vendor, all of the union negotiations are done completely through Bon Appétit.

“It’s hands-off as far as we’re concerned,” he said. “But we definitely support them being in the union and the union negotiating in good faith with Bon Appétit, and Bon Appétit in good faith with the union.”

He said he believes that both Bon Appétit and the dining workers left the table happy with the compromises.  

“From my understanding, the negotiations went very well,” he said. “It seems like all the parties are doing the right thing for the college.”

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