University of Miami workers, Chartwells, agree on unionization

caines | 5/9/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Bargaining expecting to begin this summer UMs food service workers now have a reason to smile, claiming victory last Friday after their employer, Chartwells Dining Services contracted by the University of Miami for most of their dining needs agreed to the workers establishing a union. The workers, mostly Black and a majority of women, make around $10,000 a year and wanted a fair process to begin bargaining for better wages, more affordable benefits and better treatment by their superiors in the workplace. According to regional director for 32BJ SEIU, Eric Brakken, a majority of the workers voted to join the union and have authorized them to represent their interests in upcoming negotiations that are scheduled to begin sometime this summer. Arbitrator Robert Hoffman certified the card check result late Friday night, giving 321 food service workers in UMs cafeterias and dining halls reason to celebrate. [Another option could have been for workers to hold a special election with the goal of forming of a union. But either of the two processes would have still required Chartwells to agree]. Brakken said the victory points to the importance of collaborating with others who have similar interests or are facing the same kinds of challenges. This has been a long fight but we had the backing of local clergy, community leaders, grassroots organizations and even professors employed by the University, he said. They all believed that our goal of working towards a decent salary for food service workers was something that should be supported. As the summer approaches, we are hopeful and optimistic that we can finally have real conversations with Chartwells. This is all about improving the jobs of struggling workers and paving the way for better futures for them and their families. Brakken added that had Chartwells not agreed to the union and to enter negotiations with the food service workers, the employees were prepared to go on strike disrupting cafeterias throughout the University and causing havoc during graduation. In a memo issued by UM President Donna Shalala that extended her congratulations to the workers, she addressed the potential strike. The University is aware of a potential work stoppage as part of a unionizing effort, she said. Today we have learned that Chartwells offered the union a card check and we are hopeful that this will resolve the issues. The unions organizing director, Rob Hill, said the work continues. This is truly a great victory for the UM workers new members of 32BJ [SEIU] who are set to bargain their first contract, he said. By organizing a union, they chose to bargain poverty jobs into good jobs. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com