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
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
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