After organizing to join UNITE HERE Local 26, Food service workers at 3 Boston-area universities unanimously ratified their first Union contract. 100 workers in the dining halls at Wentworth Institute of Technology, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy (Colleges of Fenway) who are employed by Chartwells will receive substantial pay increases, lower-cost heath benefits, and numerous improvements to working conditions.
Workers went to management at the start of the academic year in 2013 with majority support for the Union and demanded recognition of their union. Colleges of Fenway cafeterias are next door to Northeastern University–whose 400 cafeteria workers joined Local 26 in 2012–and Simmons College, whose workers won their contract this year. Workers at Wheelock College are currently negotiating their first contract with Sodexo.
It was the workers at Simmons College that first shared the idea of the union to workers at Colleges of Fenway. Workers at all the Fenway-area schools often take the T together and talk about work. Sometimes, they live in the same neighborhoods.
“We work so hard for our students, but we were really suffering,” said Stella Cosby, a cook at Simmons College. “We were so proud when we won the Union and even prouder when we got our first contract and raises. We knew it couldn’t stop with us.”
It didn’t. Cosby and other co-workers began reaching out to workers in the area. It wasn’t easy in a time when unions are often misunderstood. It helped that Cosby and crew were able to speak from experience—they’d done it first.
“We explained that we think we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and to have better working conditions, and that we could have that through a union,” explained Cosby.
“I have been a cook at Wentworth Institute of Technology for more than 20 years, “ said Thertilo Blanc. “I am so glad that we now have a contract that provides consistent wage increases, vacation and sick days, better benefits, and a grievance procedure. We have a voice.”
Edith “Tiny” Figueroa, a barista at Simmons College, was on hand when Colleges of the Fenway workers cast ballots to vote in their new contract.
“I really believe that we can raise the standard for food service workers across Boston and Massachusetts. We serve food at some of the nation’s best schools. We deserve better,” she said.
UNITE HERE Boston’s Local 26 represents 7,000 workers in hotels, campus cafeterias, convention centers, Fenway Park and Logan Airport.