J Street workers vote for strike

Unionized dining workers voted Wednesday to strike if contract negotiations with Aramark, GW’s food service provider, continue to fall short of their needs. Local 25 union representatives characterized recent contract negotiations as going “horribly,” but said a strike is still their last resort.

More than 90 percent of GW’s unionized workers supported the proposal. The Local 25 union represents workers at all on-campus venues, except Malaysia Kopitan and Sushi Express at J Street, and all food providers on the ground floor of the Marvin Center. One hundred of 105 workers voted at the meeting.

Union members, J Street workers and about 40 members of the Progressive Student Union held information sessions Wednesday in the Marvin Center to educate employees about their plan of action.

Employees have cited poor wages, healthcare and accident care benefits, an inadequate amount of sick days and vacation days and respect from management as their main concerns. Aramark and the Local 25 have been negotiating a new contract since July, when their three-year contract expired.

Despite the workers’ threats, Aramark officials said they are prepared with a backup plan if there is a strike.

“Students should expect not to have any interruptions,” said Terry Merriett, resident district manager for Aramark. “We continue to bargain in good faith (with the union).”

Although Merriett said he could not discuss the details of the backup plan, he said students will have food service if there is a strike.

He said he is “optimistic” that the negotiations will be settled and does not foresee any problems. The union and Aramark met last week to discuss negotiations, he said.

J Street Production Manager Muriel Patterson, who serves as a liaison between Aramark and the workers, said Aramark offered them a 20-cent wage increase for the first year of the contract and 35 cents for the next two years, compared to the national average of 40 cents.

She said this increase is not enough because of the “high cost of living” in D.C.

Employees were granted three sick days per year, according to the contract among Aramark, GW and Local 25 for 1999 to 2002.

Patterson said that Aramark offered workers the same number of sick days for the upcoming contract, plus an extra day if none are used in the previous year.

“The majority of people who work here have kids, so they will use up more than three days,” Patterson said.

Workers said they hope conditions will improve once the contract is settled.

“I like cooking,” J Street employee Angela Thompson said. “We pretty much want respect. We just care about you all.”

“We’re cafeteria workers, but (Aramark) should respect the fact that we’ve given so many years to George Washington University,” Patterson said.

Despite complaints, union officials said the last thing they want to do is strike.

“We want to get as much money out of the company without losing a penny,” Local 25 Director of Crisis Management Jorge Rivera said.

He also said a $300,000 union strike fund, which comes out of union dues, is available so that workers will continue to be paid if they stop working.

Rivera said the next step is to inform Aramark that workers plan to strike if their needs are not met.

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