Local 26 Harvard Members Win Groundbreaking Food Service Contract

Dining hall workers at Harvard, the country’s oldest university, have brought home a historic victory.

UNITE HERE Local 26’s 550 members at Harvard started organizing a contract campaign a year ago to push Harvard to provide sustainable food and create sustainable jobs. While Harvard workers had decent pay and benefits, their real earnings had been going down for 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. Harvard dining hall workers won language that says that Local 26 members have to 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.

“This is a big victory,” said Dennis Papantonatos, a, Shop Steward and Bargaining Committee Member. “It moves us toward 12-month out of the year full employment, and it’s going to mean a lot of improvements in the quality of the food for the students.”