MIAMI, FL—A majority of food service workers at the University of Miami have voted to join 32BJ SEIU and authorize the union to represent them when they begin negotiating a first contract with Chartwells Dining Services, UM’s food service contractor.
Nicole Berry, 34, who has worked at UM for over four years, said she was happy.
“This opportunity to negotiate for better pay, meaningful benefits and for respect and a voice in the workplace was the reason why we fought to organize a union,” she said.
Arbitrator Robert Hoffman certified the card check result bringing the 321 workers at cafeterias and dining halls around the university into the union early Friday evening.
32BJ SEIU Organizing Director Rob Hill hailed the workers’ struggle and congratulated on a hard-fought victory.
“This is truly a great victory for the UM workers, new members of 32BJ who are set to bargain their first contract,” Hill said. “By organizing a union, they chose to bargain poverty jobs into good jobs.”
The workers, mostly African Americans who make as little as $9.31 an hour or about $10,000 a year, wanted a simple, fair process to begin bargaining for the opportunity to earn a living wage, more meaningful benefits, and dignity and respect in the workplace. Workers often have to rely on public subsidies for food, health care, housing and cash support in order to live on what they make working at the University of Miami.
Last week, they won that right when Chartwells agreed to a card check process to certify that they wanted 32BJ SEIU as their union. After a long contentious campaign to win their union, The workers were supported by prominent community leaders and clergy who joined with students and faculty to demand that University president Donna Shalala stop the contractor’s attempts to stop the union drive.
“Victory!” said an overjoyed Giovanna Pompele, a UM professor who helped collect over 300 faculty signatures on a petition to Shalala, asking her to intervene on behalf of the workers. “We know now our food workers will have the opportunity to bargain for better pay and have a shot at decent working conditions.”
With more than 125,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country.