Northeastern workers celebrate as they announce that they’ve won their union. Photo credit to The Huntington News.
It’s official. Chartwells workers at Northeastern University have won the union they fought for with an overwhelming 86% of workers voting ‘yes’. Their fight is an outstanding example that even in the midst of national economic uncertainty, right wing attacks on workers, and face-to-face management intimidation, when workers and community come together to fight for what’s right, they win. They didn’t do it in a day, however, and much less alone. The workers today are in tears because getting to the point where they could let go of their fears and speak out was a challenge alone, and they couldn’t have done it without the outstanding support from the student body on campus that organized themselves into a coalition of dozens of students groups collectively calling themselves Huskies Organizing With Labor (HOWL). Together, workers and students, sent Chartwells running scared and left Northeastern administrators speechless at witnessing the results of their organizing efforts.
The workers at Northeastern are the latest ecstatic members of UNITE HERE! Local 26 but that’s not the only thing that’s resulted from this inspirational fight. When this campaign first started over eight months ago, there was only a small core of upset workers ready to fight for their union and a core of students in the USAS affiliate, the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), ready to launch their student solidarity efforts when the workers gave the green light. As efforts rolled out into the school year for workers to grow their numbers of support, so did efforts to increase the number of students who would stand in solidarity with the Chartwells workers when the fight became more public, more confrontational and with more risks. Throughout the school year, students and workers coordinated together to have the strongest organizing plan possible that would leave Chartwells no option but to recognize their union. Workers visited their coworkers week after week having exhausting but much needed conversations and constant meetings to keep building their power in numbers. Students all the while, were reaching out to major student groups on campus asking for their support of the workers. Six months later, 70% of workers were actively in support of unionizing and nearly 20 student groups on the Northeastern campus pledged their support. By this time, all bets were off on whether Chartwells management and Northeastern administrators knew about the organizing, and the intimidation of workers was in full effect.
Key worker leaders were called in by Chartwells management into private, closed door, one-on-one meetings intimidating workers into ending their organizing efforts or face consequences. By this point, however, workers were too empowered to let management tactics have any effect. In February, students took their organizing to a new level by doing public delegations to some of the most abusive managers in the campus dining areas and officially forming Huskies Organizing with Labor, a coalition of 46 Northeastern student groups standing side by side workers as they continued their fight. By March, students and workers upped the pressure even more and hosted one of the largest worker speak outs on campuses this year with nearly a dozen workers telling stories of years of enduring Chartwells abuses to a crowd of over 500 students and faculty. By this point, it didn’t matter that the official process for voting for their union hadn’t happened, the workers knew that with the numbers they had organized themselves into, they were the union.
Workers held their election on Thursday April 12th and as Chartwells worker Johanny Santana put it, made history. Northeastern University Chartwells workers are the biggest university shop that is organized in Boston!
Their fight and the fight of many other food service workers continues on university campuses, and they know it. “Our contract is coming, and we have to fight again,” stated Chartwells worker Angela Bello, with chants of “We Are the Union!” ringing in the background. At the University of Miami, another group of Chartwells workers is also in the middle of a fight to organize a union with the full support of the UM USAS affiliate, Students Toward a New Democracy (STAND). UM has already been rocked by STAND when they stood in solidarity with custodial workers subcontracted by UNICCO. If student – worker solidarity keeps to these sorts of results, Chartwells is going to have another serious issue to deal with at our universities.