The union representing Harvard’s dining workers, UNITE HERE Local 26, overwhelmingly ratified a new five-year contract with the University Thursday, securing compensation increases and job protections for current and laid-off employees after four months of negotiations and engagement with a federal mediator.
The vote was 99.45 percent in favor of the tentative agreement the two parties reached last week. The contract includes a 15 percent increase in wages over the duration of the contract and increases to summer stipends, as well as a guarantee of working hours for current dining workers and jobs for some recently laid-off employees. The agreement also maintains the health care plan Local 26 won in 2016 after going on strike for 22 days, rocking campus.
“This contract makes sure Harvard’s dining hall workers are part of the economic recovery from COVID-19,” Michael Kramer, executive vice president of Local 26, said in a written statement.
Out of 364 votes, 362 union members voted in favor of the contract, easily clearing the simple majority threshold required for ratification.
Harvard University Dining Services Managing Director Smitha S. H. Haneef shared the news with HUDS management Thursday evening.
“I am looking forward to the future with and for you to build our food systems and hospitality,” she wrote in an email obtained by The Crimson. “This is a big day for all of us, as one HUDS team, to progressively advance Harvard mission through our service.”
Under the new agreement, wages will be increased retroactive to June 21, with annual raises between 2.75 and 3.25 percent totaling $4.03 per hour over the five years, according to the union’s contract summary. The summer stipend, which pays HUDS employees over the vacation regardless of number of shifts they work, will also gradually increase from $3,000 to $3,800 by the end of the agreement.
The contract also maintains the union’s current health care coverage, which was a landmark achievement in its last round of contract negotiations. In 2016, Harvard agreed to pay insurance copays on the University staff and hourly insurance plans for HUDS employees and created a new premium contribution tier for employees who make less than $55,000 annually.
Additionally, HUDS will maintain the “authorized hours of every current HUDS employee” on the payroll as of Dec. 1, according to the union’s contract summary.
The protections against layoffs and hours reductions come after the union alleged last month HUDS management was planning to cut 20 percent of full-time dining positions in the residential houses after reviewing the University’s proposed schedules for the next academic years. Harvard has since withdrawn those schedules.
Edwin J. Hinspeter, a Leverett House shop steward, said he believes the job security side letter is unprecedented for Local 26.
“It’s a really good contract for us,” he said after casting his ballot. “I believe the job security language — we’ve never had language like that before.”
Willie H. Moore, an assistant cook at Harvard Law School, said he voted yes because he wants to maintain his current position until retirement.
“I’ve been there 22 years,” he said. “I would love to retire there and continue my life.”
HUDS will also offer positions to employees formerly contracted from dining management company Restaurant Associates who were laid off from the Graduate School of Design and the Law School earlier this year, according to the Local 26 contract summary.
According to University spokesperson Jason A. Newton, Harvard is seeking to fill more than 50 positions, and former RA employees are welcome to apply.
Claudia J. Escobar, a former catering employee at HLS who was laid off from her position, said the contract may allow her to return to work as a Harvard employee.
“It is our right to [go] back to work because we [were] working during the pandemic, and I think we deserve to go back to work,” Escobar said after voting to ratify the contract.
Hilary J. Flores-Hebert, a Business School dining worker and volunteer at the polling station, said she decided to volunteer to help other members gain a contract that guaranteed greater job security. In addition, she said she supports the continued health care benefits and compensation increases.
“I think that’s super important, given that we’re essential workers, that we put so much of our time and effort to contribute to this community,” she said.
Fearing reductions in the dining staff’s hours in Harvard College’s residential houses, UNITE HERE Local 26, the union representing dining employees at the University, has solicited the support of students through a flyer campaign as undergraduates return to campus.
The flyers allege Harvard is “using austerity politics to marginalize essential workers” after collecting tuition during the pandemic and growing its endowment through the fiscal year 2020.
“At the same time, Harvard is pushing food service workers to the sidelines by slashing full-time jobs and cutting hours – even though more students are on campus than ever,” the flyer reads.
In July, Harvard University Dining Services announced changes to its menus and hours beginning this fall, including full breakfast service at Annenberg and Quincy House, longer breakfast and dinner hours, and more kosher, halal, vegan, and vegetarian options. HUDS spokesperson Crista Martin wrote the new service model is designed “to continue to meet the changing needs of students and our community.”
“These updates will necessitate some modifications to staff schedules, but as we have shared with the union, those adjustments will be undertaken over time, with union input and in accordance with the union contract,” she wrote.
At the union’s request, Harvard shared preliminary schedules with Local 26 for the coming academic years, according to Martin.
Local 26 President Carlos Aramayo said in an interview that the union analyzed those proposed schedules and determined they would amount to a 20 percent cut in the number of full-time dining employees in residential houses and an 8 percent cut in total hours available.
Martin wrote it was “premature” to comment on the union’s analysis, especially as the preliminary schedules would not fully go into effect until the 2022-23 academic year. HUDS is currently piloting the new menus it announced in July so that the union and students can give feedback on the new model, according to Martin.
“It would be premature to comment on the proposed service models and draft schedules that have been shared with Local 26 during these negotiations,” Martin wrote. “As the University has shared with Local 26, these models and schedules are being piloted, and not implemented until fall 2022, with feedback and input from the union over the course of this academic year.”
Harvard committed to not laying off any current HUDS employee while the new model is being discussed this year, according to Martin. She added all current employees affected by the changes next year will be offered comparable positions, which HUDS believes will be possible given current projections.
Aramayo said he believes any cuts to workers’ hours contradicts Harvard’s commitment to an equitable and sustained recovery that supports its Black and brown workers.
“What we’re seeing is proposed changes to the schedule that will leave a fifth of the people who have full time positions in the dining halls working below full-time,” he said. “With Harvard putting out these proposed changes to the schedules and to the meals, a fifth of the people with full-time jobs in dining services are now facing profound uncertainty about the future, and they want to do something about it.”
Hakim Akendar, a pantry steward in Winthrop House who has worked at Harvard for more than 20 years, said he is afraid of losing 10 hours in shifts, meaning he would no longer be considered a full-time employee.
“I was hopeful that we’re going to move on to better days, especially [since] we have more students coming to Winthrop,” he said. “I was hopeful that I’m going to put Covid behind me, move on to better days. I’m shocked that this is what’s happening.”
Reduced hours would strain his finances and his ability to support his family, Akendar added.
Charlene V. Almeida, a dining employee at Quincy House with more than two decades of experience at HUDS, wrote in a statement that she might not be able to make rent in Cambridge or feed her children on reduced hours. Citing Harvard’s financial stability during the pandemic, she called on the University to protect dining staff and their families who are “part of Harvard too.”
“Harvard claims to be committed to this community,” she wrote. “They should be making sure we all recover from COVID-19.”
The Harvard College Student Labor Action Movement helped Local 26 flyer campus. It is also holding a teach-in to support the dining workers on September 4.
“Once again, the richest university in the world is attempting to cut HUDS worker jobs and hours,” the organization wrote in a statement. “Rather than guarantee dining hall workers good paying and stable jobs, Harvard is making their futures uncertain with the threats of additional cuts. All this in the midst of a global pandemic and while our dining halls are short-staffed as it is.”
Local 26 ultimately hopes to avoid any cuts in hours for its employees.
“At the very least, a restoration of the number of hours that we had in 2019, if not an increase, is essential to have, from our perspective, a fair and equitable recovery coming out of Covid and to allay the fears and concerns of our members,” Aramayo said. “We’re always willing to discuss that with the University.”
The union’s shop stewards “are going to look at every possible action that we could take to punctuate how important this is to get resolved for our members over there,” he added.
In 2016 during their last round of contract negotiations, hundreds of HUDS workers went on strike for 22 days over compensation, health care, and job security, ultimately reaching a tentative agreement with the University.
We won! Tufts dining workers have reached a tentative agreement for their first union contract! Strike averted.
BREAKING: We won! Tufts dining workers have reached a tentative agreement for their first union contract! Strike averted
Posted by UNITE HERE Local 26 on Friday, 29 March 2019
For Immediate Release: March 14, 2018
Contact: Nicki Morris, 857-498-2495, [email protected]
Tufts University Dining Hall Workers Vote to Strike
137 to 17, dining workers vote overwhelmingly to authorize strike
BOSTON, MA—After casting votes late into Thursday evening, UNITE HERE Local 26 Tufts University dining hall workers have overwhelmingly voted to authorized a strike. Now, a strike can be called by the Tufts bargaining committee at any time. After eight months of negotiations for their first union contract, Tufts University administrators potentially face the first strike at a Boston-area university since the 2016 Harvard Dining Hall Workers Strike.
“This is exactly the energy we need to win,” said Trish O’Brien, Tufts Dining worker for thirty years. “I saw my daughter go on strike at Harvard University and it made all the difference. We want everyone treated fairly and we want the same respect as other dining hall workers throughout Boston. We shouldn’t have to strike to win that, but we are prepared for anything.”
Tufts workers are also encouraged by the successful Marriott Strike of 2018, where workers at seven Marriott-operated hotels in Boston went on strike for 46 days winning landmark gains.
“I’m so proud to support the workers. We will back them through the strike, no matter how long it takes until they get a fair contract,” said Yashi Thakurani, Tufts University first-year student.
UNITE HERE Local 26 President Brian Lang said, “These are modest demands. We will see if Tufts has the moral integrity to rise to the occasion.”