J-Street workers strike deal

Unionized food workers voted to approve a three-year contract with food service provider Aramark Wednesday, after about five months of negotiations. Aramark responded to most of the workers’ demands concerning higher wages, better health care benefits and more efficient grievance procedures in the new contract, union representatives said.

All but one of the 80 unionized workers present at the meeting voted to accept the contract.

“This is a fabulous package and you should be proud,” John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of the Local 25 union, told the workers during one of Wednesday’s meetings.

Aramark officials were unavailable for comment after the vote Wednesday.

Last month workers voted to strike if their contract demands were not met, but reached a “turning point” in their negotiations after they wore Local 25 T-shirts instead of their regular uniforms the day after the vote, Boardman said.

Wages will increase by $1.35 per hour over the next three years.

Under the last contract, employees who worked at national chains, including Burger King and Starbucks, earned about $2 less per hour than those who worked at non-franchised venues. The new contract closes the gap, Boardman said.

Workers said they are happy about the long-awaited wage increase.

“(The new contract) tightens the (wage) reduction clause,” said Anquanette Williamson, who works at Einstein Bros. Bagels. “There were a lot of loose birds in it.”

“We can get our respect back and get our pay wages,” said Rochelle Kelly, who works at the Home Zone and Grilleworks.

The contract also improves the grievance and arbitration process, which increases employees’ abilities to resolve disputes quickly, Boardman said.

If a worker files a complaint with Aramark, the food service provider only has 45 days to respond to the complaint, Boardman explained, adding that sometimes it took up to a year for disputes to be settled under the last contract.

He said Aramark also agreed to increase health care funding by 22.5 percent and more than double pension contribution during the course of the three-year contract.

Although wages cover day-to-day living expenses, employees need more funds to have money left over for retirement, he said. Boardman also noted that without sufficient contribution from Aramark, some workers with families might have to make the choice between paying rent or getting medical treatment.

Over 90 food service workers at GW belong to the Local 25 union, but most workers at the Marvin Center’s ground level venues are not unionized, even though Aramark also runs those franchises.

Boardman said Local 25 hopes to unionize these workers and those at the University Club.

Boardman, who earned his MBA from GW, said the successful negotiation of the contract was a “particularly good win” for him.

“This was just pure fun to watch (Aramark management) squirm,” he said.

Workers and union officials said students, including Progressive Student Union members, supported the workers throughout the negotiation process.
About 1,000 GW students signed a petition in support of the workers earlier this semester and the PSU held a panel discussion with J Street workers to educate students about the workers’ complaints. Local 25 is hosting a party for PSU members and other students Nov. 15.
“We’re just doing what we should have been doing all along,” sophomore PSU member James Generic said. “It’s total victory for people who serve us everyday. They deserve no less.”

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