Aramark workers credit student activism in record pay raise

Dining workers’ union thanks student groups for public show of support during wage negotiations

By Asher Klein

Workers’ groups on campus thanked student activists for strengthening their bargaining power in negotiations that led to an updated contract during a meeting on Saturday.

At the meeting, campus groups, dining hall employees and the Teamsters Local 743 came together to discuss a wage increase and updated contract for Aramark employees. In anticipation of future efforts to improve wages and benefits for employees, the discussion aimed to foster a better understanding between the groups and an identification of the best organizing strategies.

Members of Students Organized and United for Labor (SOUL), Aramark Worker–Student Alliance (AWSA), Students for a Democratic Society, Graduate Students United , and Jewish Action were present, all of whom participated in rallies and action in support of the workers.

Two negotiators of Local 743 described the situation at the bargaining table.  As they presented a Certificate of Appreciation to SOUL, they stressed that the students’ help was critical during the negotiations.

“The University was in it [pressuring Aramark] because of y’all,” said Voncile Arnold, a cook at Bartlett for 22 years and a steward for the union for 10 years who helped negotiate the contract.  The new contract stipulates that workers will receive a 40-cent raise in their hourly raises over the coming year, 30 cents the following year, and 40 following that.

Arnold said the students’ support, which included six rallies held by SOUL and AWSA, was the strongest she had ever seen. She linked that to the result of the negotiations, which was the first time in her experience “where we even came close to a 40-cent raise.”

Bob Silver, a full-time negotiator for the Local 743, said that the negotiations were “very smooth and respectful,” and partially attributed that to the students’ activism. “A public show of support is so important, sometimes more important than workers themselves,” said Silver, who exchanged contact information and discussed upcoming meetings with students.

The meeting marked the end of a protracted effort to negotiate a contract with a seven-percent wage increase and more evenhanded treatment at the hand of Aramark, the employer. The new wages represent an increase of more than 10 percent.

Though the contract exceeded many expectations, one worker expressed some reservations about hour distributions.

With the economy in a recession and prospects looking bleak for labor on campus, and as management is forced to make cuts, attendees saw the need for improvement and continued collaboration in the coming months.

SOUL member and third-year Marybeth Tamborra hoped that future collaborations with Aramark workers would be as successful.  “A win like this sets a good precedent for getting new contracts,” she said.