HOWL announces vote on dining workers’ strike, rallies in Curry

Corey Dockser

After years of campaigning for better benefits and pay, UNITE HERE Local 26, the union representing Northeastern’s dining hall workers, announced Wednesday night they will hold a vote Oct. 4 to determine whether the union will strike.

Students, faculty, union representatives and dining hall workers gathered in room 333 of the Curry Student Center for a campaign announcement from Local 26. 

“It’s unconscionable that such a prestigious organization would have workers playing the critical role that our members play here who have to rely on welfare as they’re working a full time job just to get by,” said Brian Lang, president of Local 26. “Our members have put forward very modest demands: simply $35,000 a year for a full time worker and affordable health care.”

Dining service workers are not employees of the university; they are employed by Chartwells, a catering company for schools, and subcontracted to Northeastern. Contract negotiations with Chartwells began April 20.

“You may see us smiling when you guys are getting the morning coffee or your lunch, but what you don’t know is that many of us are struggling to survive,” said Angela Bello, a Northeastern dining hall worker of nine years and mother of a Northeastern law student.

Despite calls to action from students and Local 26 representatives for Northeastern to be actively involved in contract negotiations, university spokesperson Matthew McDonald said in an email to The News that dining service workers are not employees of the university, and thus the university was not a part of their contract negotiations.

“Dining services workers at the university, while valued members of our community, are not employed by Northeastern; they are employed by our food service vendor, Chartwells,” McDonald said. “We look forward to the union and the employer reaching an amicable agreement.”

The average salary of a dining hall worker in 2016 was less than $22,000, according to a press release announcing the Oct. 4 vote. As a result, many full-time workers are forced to make use of government benefits, including subsidized housing, food stamps, child care and government health insurance, Bello said.

“We are proud. We are not scared. Standing behind me is a lot of faces of 300 workers who have pledged to go on strike,” Bello said, gesturing to the line of placards behind her featuring the names and faces of workers under the title “Support the Strike.”

Thomas Gross, a grill cook who has worked at Northeastern for four years, spoke about the struggle of raising his daughter in a dangerous neighborhood.

“I hope one day my daughter can go to Northeastern or any college she chooses, but right now I live in a neighborhood that’s too dangerous for her to even play outside,” Gross said. “I can’t afford to leave even though I work full time. […] We believe that anyone who works full time here, at any university in Boston, should be able to live a healthy and sustainable life.”

Following the workers’ testimonials, Lang called upon HOWL student leaders. Joe Taché, a fifth-year entrepreneurship major, said HOWL has gained the support of 39 student groups and its petition of students who support dining hall workers has garnered 1,100 signatures.

“We can win, we will win, and it’ll happen faster the more unified we are,” Taché said.

Third-year history major Kerrina Williams announced HOWL’s latest coalition member.

“I’m really excited to announce that the history department has decided to sign on as a member of the coalition and fully support it,” she said. “We all need to have our voices heard, not just the students, and not just the workers, but it’s so important that our professors are behind this too and are showing that they care about every member of this community.”

Union and student leaders gradually led the large crowd down to the first floor of Curry, running through a series of chants in English and Spanish while workers and student activists held “Support the Strike” placards.

“When workers rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back,” they chanted.

This continued for about 10 minutes, after which the group moved to the Snell Library Quad for a final demonstration of chanting, sign holding and cheering.

Samuel Kim contributed to this article.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the Oct. 4 strike was announced by HOWL and PSA. The announcement was made by Local 26. Additionally, a previous version of this story said the cancelled rally in Krentzman Quad was moved inside to the Curry Student Center. In fact, the indoor and outdoor rallies were two separate events, the cancelled one being sponsored by PSA and the indoor one being sponsored by HOWL.