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
Relations Boardofficially 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.