is mid-afternoon, and the lunchtime rush is finally over at the cafeteria in

Clare Hall on Marian University's northwestside

campus. Men and women in royal blue shirts and black pants, tired and hungry

after a long shift spent on their feet, cooking and serving meals and cleaning

up afterward, walked slowly into a room to the side of the main dining hall.


as they listen to the organizer from the union UNITE HERE, the energy level in

the room seems to ratchet up with each item mentioned. After eight months of difficult

contract negotiations—punctuated by worker protests and displays of

community and student support

—their employer ARAMARK has agreed to terms.


hear that the company is promising immediate raises and sustained wage

increases over the life of the four-year contract. Workers smile in surprise,

and look at their colleagues with raised eyebrows. Starting salaries will be

higher, health care costs will drop, and the company agreed to match

contributions to a 401(k) retirement plan. Heads nod in approval. The contract

also includes improved access to year-round employment, a critical issue for

on-campus workers. "Yes!" one of the workers exclaims.


Finch, one of the Marian workers who negotiated the contract, stands up. "Remember

how it used to be? We only got a few cents of raises and the company just did

whatever they wanted to," he says. "This contract gives us seniority

so we just can't get stepped over. This contract gives us healthcare we can

afford—I know right now I can't afford to go the doctor if I get hurt."


of the same scene were repeated last week several times at Marian and at Butler

University, where workers also work for Aramark. The result was that workers at

the two schools voted a combined 115-1 in secret ballot elections to approve

the new contracts.


new contracts mean that over 500 service and hospitality workers in the

Indianapolis area, including workers at IUPUI and the Indianapolis

International Airport, earn higher wages and better benefits thanks to recent union

contracts. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is working to earn

similar contracts for our city's janitors and security guards.

The workers at Butler, Marian, and

beyond insist that their jobs have dignity, and do not have to be characterized

by low pay and uncertain tenure. They point out that this week's result is not

an anomaly: Unionization of service-sector work has been shown to reliably and

significantly increase workers' wages and benefits.

In the early and mid 20th

century, the union movement turned once low-paying manufacturing jobs into solid

careers that allowed workers to buy homes and send their kids to college. Workers in Indianapolis say they are on

the road toward doing the same for service-sector jobs today.

"I was opposed to the union

at first," says James Holder, who has served 20 years as a custodian at

Marian. "But now I realize that this is how we get our dignity back."