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Loyola U. Dining Employees Unionize With Support From Students, Faculty

I'm thankful there are still people who fight for the common good against daunting odds, and that some of us are still principled enough to support them in their fight. Now if only Aramark doesn't pull any funny stuff, we might have a happy ending

I'm thankful there are still people who fight for the common good against daunting odds, and that some of us are still principled enough to support them in their fight. Now if only Aramark doesn't pull any funny stuff, we might have a happy ending here. Via In These Times:

Grill cook Janet Irving has worked at the dining hall for Loyola University in Chicago for 26 years. But she still makes only $14 an hour, has no health insurance and gets little benefit for her seniority in scheduling shifts.

Issues like these are why the 204 workers from 16 countries decided to form a union. After a difficult organizing campaign where they initially faced intense opposition from their employer, Aramark, on Nov. 16 the company agreed to recognize UNITE HERE Local 1 after 80 percent of workers signed union cards.

Contract negotiations will begin in coming months and Irving, 49, is confident that things will get a lot better for workers. “It’s beautiful, it’s great, only good things can happen now,” she said.

She said workers will be surveyed to come up with specific demands for a wage increase, affordable health insurance, seniority rights and other issues. Currently Irving can’t afford the health insurance Aramark offers, so she is uninsured and relies on the public county hospital for treatment for her heart condition.

Aramark had employed Loyola workers in the past and there was a union contract. Then another company, Bon Appetit Management Services, ran the cafeteria for six years.

“Aramark is strictly about the company making money, they’re a multi-billion dollar corporation, they don’t care how we survive or that we are living pay day to pay day,” Irving said.

Irving said workers tried to unionize several years ago but the effort was squashed by intimidation before it got off the ground. This time, she said, the key was keeping organizing secret until they had gained a critical mass. Loyola students and professors and Chicago interfaith and community groups also supported the workers, including at several public rallies.

“Without them we wouldn’t have made it,” said Irving, adding that continued support will be important as they negotiate their first contract. “Students, priests, the neighborhood, teachers – everybody stood behind us.”

The unionizing drive was especially challenging because of the diversity of the workforce, including refugees and immigrants from Bosnia, Mexico, China and several African countries. Some of them had negative impressions of unions or heightened fears about repression because of situations in their own countries.

“Half of them were really scared, or didn’t really understand what a union is all about,” said Irving. “It was a little difficult, but we made it.”

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