Lesley Cafeteria Workers Wonder How Long Is Long Enough?

This past Friday afternoon, a delegation of workers, students and faculty members marched to the offices of Lesley University to deliver a petition containing the signatures of 522 community members demanding fair working conditions and a living wage for cafeteria members at the university. The petition was to be presented to Vice President for Administration Marylou Batt who was either unable or unwilling to accept the petition. The petition was originally to be delivered following last week’s rally for fair pay, but because of weather conditions, administrators had left before participants had a chance to speak to them.

 On this occasion, however, delegates were able to speak to John Sullivan, Director of Communications, a representative of the university. As workers expressed frustrations over unfair compensation and their inability to afford basic necessities such as health insurance, their concerns seemed to fall on deaf ears. Director Sullivan claimed, as Lesley University has in the past, that Lesley has little to no control over how Bon Appétit (the agency hired to provide food services at the university) compensates their workers, despite the fact that in past union negotiations, Bon Appétit stated that Lesley did not allow them to pay their workers any more than they were already paying.

 This game of passing the buck has been going on since the negotiations began almost a year ago. Neither Bon Appétit nor Lesley University is willing to take responsibility for the fact that their workers do not receive a living wage.

When a union organizer called attention to this standstill, Sullivan responded with, “From our perspective, eight months isn’t that long.” How long should these workers expect to wait before they can afford to pay their rent or feed their families?

On Monday, February 24, the Cambridge City Council will be convening, and workers and supporters will be speaking out about these issues. If you support the workers’ right to a fair wage and you are a student, faculty member or ally from the city of Cambridge, you are encouraged to come to the meeting at 5:30 in Cambridge City Hall where your voice will be heard.

photo by Lilly Christopher, taken at Bon Appetit workers rally

Lesley Cafeteria Workers Rally for Fair Pay

Alas, the saga for workers’ rights at Lesley University continues.  On Thursday, February 13th, union organizers, Bon Appetit cafeteria workers, students, and faculty gathered on campus to rally for a decent living wage.

The rally began with a march from White Hall, which led to a circle of chants and slogans in the middle of the Doble Quad.  To combat the snow, wind, and freezing rain, organizers handed out ponchos and hand-warmers.  Armed with these as well as picket signs reading “UNITE HERE!”, the rally-ers stood up to the management and the weather.



Coming off of the heels of a recent unionization, the cooks, line chefs, and dishwashers of the Charlie’s, Washburn, and White dining establishments was had a bottom line of fair pay.  Issues with low pay and lack of benefits has long been an issue between, Lesley, Bon Appetit Management, and their staff.  Like the latter’s first rally that occurred last March, Thursday’s procession consisted of several worker testimonies.  Among the speakers were Cambridge City Councilor Mark McGovern, Brattle Campus Chef Randy Wright and other cafeteria workers, Lesley student activist Theresa Powers and EDS Professor Reverend Dr. Norman Faramelli.


Brattle chef Randy Wright advocating for a cafeteria worker pay raise. (Photo Credit: Natalie Cohen)

Speaking in English and Spanish, cafeteria workers explained to the crowd that working full time on the wages they are paid by management is not enough for to pay for all their basic needs.  ”I can’t pay my rent” claimed Randy Wright, who is also in recovery from addiction while trying to stay on his feet as a chef at Washburn Dining Commons.  Senior Theresa Powers, who has long been an advocate for workers rights on campus and frontrunner of the People’s Alliance for Worker Solidarity (PAWS),aired her grievances with the system in the rally’s finale:

“As a student here at Lesley, I am absolutely appalled at the fact that these workers, who I call my family, can’t afford to feed their own families.  We pay a lot of money to go to this school.  How is our money transferring into what they get paid at all?  It is time for Lesley to stand up for what’s right.”

 The rally concluded with more chanting and calls of action before the cold and wet crowd dispersed.  Though Bon Appetit and Lesley officials have not yet publicly responded, the cafeteria workers and their supporters certainly made an attention-grabbing statement.  But will the future bring higher pay to those who feed the Lesley community?  Only time will tell.

Cafeteria workers at Lesley and Simmons Join UNITE HERE Local 26

Campus food service workers and their student, faculty, and community allies continue to build a movement for real food, real jobs, & thriving communities in Cambridge and Boston.

In just 18 months, 650 dining hall workers at Harvard Law School, Northeastern University, Lesley University, the Episcopal Divinity School, and Simmons College have voted to join UNITE HERE Local 26, Greater Boston’s union of food service and hotel workers.

This spring saw 80 workers at Lesley join the union on March 1 and, most recently, 70 workers at Simmons join through an NLRB election that was held on April 24.


“We made a family out of ourselves”

Every September, a quarter million students from around the world breathe life into Cambridge and Boston, filling over fifty colleges and universities. Arriving students, many of whom are new to the area or to the country, find that in the dining halls they develop a bond with each other and with the workers who care for them.

Every day, thousands of food service workers — mostly women, immigrants and people of color — sustain them and show them love.

“I love my job because I love my students”, says Estella Cosby, a cook at Simmons, and it shows. When winter storm ‘Nemo’ shut down roads, schools, and businesses in February, Stella walked in the snow for an hour to reach campus. During the citywide lockdown in April, cook Melvin Butler and five co-workers kept the cafeteria running from morning to night. “I’m needed. You all need to eat!” he told astonished students.

For Ren Kenney and hundreds of other students, the love is mutual: “When I first got to Simmons, the cafeteria workers treated me with kindness, like family. They take care of us. So when the workers started organizing, I had their back the way they had mine. That’s what community is about”, says the rising senior.

“We made a family out of ourselves because all we had was each other. I got to know the students and professors, I shared a little about myself, they shared a little about themselves, and then students became like my sisters and daughters, and professors became like my aunts and mothers,” says Stella.



“Stick Together, and we have power”

Last fall, worker committees, supported by students, faculty and community allies from both sides of the Charles River began to build bridges to bring it all together. Andre Lucas, a cook at Lesley, practiced an idea that would later become the campaign’s motto: “in Haiti we say, ‘L’union fait la force’ — stick together, and we have power.” Every day after work, Andre spent time getting to know workers from other kitchens and cafeterias, forging bonds that crossed campuses.

From proudly wearing ‘We Love our Cafeteria Workers’ buttons to collecting hundreds of petition signatures, “students gave us motivation and confidence”, says Nico Cotto, a cook at Simmons. Lesley’s People’s Alliance for Worker Solidarity (PAWS), sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” in one of many delegations to management. Simmons’ Fighting Injustice Now at Simmons (FINS) designed personalized cards for each and every worker before election day.

Building Momentum in Boston

The family, and the movement, will continue to grow, with contract negotiations at Simmons and Lesley ongoing, and thousands of food service workers in the Boston area who are still without a union.

Today, workers and students from both institutions are taking their stories and organizing experience beyond their campuses, driving new organizing across Greater Boston: “I love talking to workers and visiting them in their homes. It just makes me want to do more”, says Edith “Tiny” Figueroa, a cook at Simmons for 5 years.

Theresa Powers, a rising senior at Lesley, agrees: “Seeing the change at Lesley made me want to work on bringing those changes to food service workers all over Boston. When all workers are receiving fair wages, respect and dignity — that’s going to have a powerful effect on their communities.”