Creation of HOWL 2022 to offer aid in contract negotiations

May 11, 2022

HOWL originally began in 2012 to help dining hall workers form a union under UNITE HERE Local 26, and resurfaced in 2017 to demand $35,000 a year for full-time workers and affordable health care. Both of the HOWL campaigns resulted in favorable contract negotiations.

HOWL reignited again in January 2022 to help advocate for a better contract for food service workers. With the economic hardships of the pandemic, inflation and rising living costs due to gentrification, many dining hall workers have found themselves struggling to feed their families and meet basic needs, HOWL said in their resource guides. The group is calling for many changes in the contract negotiations including increasing wages to be comparable to Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, who pay their workers $5-6 more per hour; setting a full-time schedule of 40 hours per week and allowing dining hall workers to bring excess food home for their families.

After hearing dining workers speak about their experiences at a joint meeting between Northeastern’s Young Democratic Socialists of America, or YDSA, and Northeastern Mutual Aid in January, second-year history, culture, and law major Alex Madaras said she knew that something must be done to further advocate for dining hall workers.

“The minute I listened to the worker stories, the minute that we met them and we heard from them in their own words, it just changed my plans. It just felt so urgent and close to home. What was happening really shifted my perspective about labor issues on campus,” Madaras said. “I know from experience how important dining hall workers are to our experiences as students. For me, I feel a sense of responsibility and solidarity. … It’s unfair for us to depend so much on [the dining hall workers’] hard work to make the university run and then not pay attention to the struggles, not try to support them in their fight. It feels important to be connected to the people you are in a community with.” 

Madaras recalled that there were a lot of exciting conversations at the January YDSA meeting about getting students and organizations on board. Shortly after the meeting, a HOWL resource guide, including a presentation, one-page fact sheet and link to sign up to join HOWL, was distributed to organizations and classes to encourage involvement through its outreach team. As of May 11, 65 organizations have signed on to participate in HOWL, Madaras said.

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