Food-service workers at IUPUI have organized the first union

shop on any university campus in Indiana, according to officials from Unite

Here Local 3 in Indianapolis.

"The next step is for these workers to sit down with

management and negotiate their first contract," said Becky Smith, the

union's community political organizer.

The 72 represented workers are employed by Chartwells, a

division of the Charlotte, N.C.-based Compass Group North America. Chartwells

provides food services to school districts, university campuses and private

schools across the nation. At IUPUI, the company operates all food outlets

except the Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble campus bookstore.

Unite Here represents workers in the United States and Canada

in the hotel, gaming, food-service, manufacturing, textile, distribution,

laundry and airport industries. The Indianapolis local, which Smith called "fairly

new," also represents workers at the Indianapolis International Airport

and has been organizing workers at downtown Indianapolis hotels. Workers at the

gambling boats in Northwest Indiana are represented by Chicago's Unite Here

local, she said.

The union traces its roots to 1891 when the Hotel &

Restaurant Employees International Union formed. It includes a diverse

membership of workers from immigrant communities and high percentages of

African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans, according to its website. The majority are women.

Smith said the IUPUI workers began their organizing effort

last spring and in early September notified Chartwells management of their

intent to unionize. The process involved a "card-check" system in

which workers signed cards to indicate their support rather than taking a vote.

Within two weeks, a majority of the workers had signed cards

indicating their support for union representation, she said. While the company

could have resisted, it didn't.

"They are a fairly good company to work with and for

allowing union recognition," Smith said.

Chartwells accepted the cards, and the National Labor

Relations Board

officially recognized the IUPUI bargaining unit on Sept. 29, she


Chartwells employee James Meyers was one of the campaign

organizers. He said worker empowerment was among the driving forces behind the


"What got me interested was to be able to have a voice

on my job," he said, "to make things better for me and my


Specifically, he cited pay, benefits and working conditions.

"We wanted to have a voice in what goes on and how

things are done," he said.

Most of the employees work at the IUPUI Campus Center

prepping and cooking food, he said. "There's like three different sites

on the campus, but the main building is the Campus Center."

Smith said the workers' campaign drew support from across

the campus. In fact, students and professors accompanied the workers when they

presented the company with the cards.

"I think that was a huge help," she said. "It

was a real community effort there at IUPUI."

Meyers said the workers are pleased the process went so

smoothly and hope the first contract negotiations progress similarly.

"We have no idea," he said when asked how long

they might take, "but hopefully we will come to an agreement soon."

Steven Higgs is a

freelance writer and editor of The Bloomington Alternative.