This week 60 food service workers employed by Compass Group at Worcester State University in Worcester, MA won their first contract, capping off a 9 month organizing campaign with the New England Joint Board of UNITE HERE. Workers began organizing last summer under a card check neutrality agreement. They won recognition of their union in the fall and joined the ranks of nearly 1,100 other NEJB members in the city of Worcester who are employed in distribution centers and industrial laundries.
Worcester State workers began negotiating immediately after winning recognition. Over the past few months the negotiating committee worked diligently to educate and activate their fellow workers: some lifelong Worcester residents, others new immigrants from Albania and Latin America. With a new-found sense of unity WSU workers were able to win a landmark contract. The contract contains strong immigrant rights language and defines full time hours as 29 hours and above per week allowing more workers to qualify for benefits. In addition, workers won quality and affordable union health insurance with the company paying 85% of the costs and workers receiving 52 weeks of coverage while contributing only 32 weeks of the year. On average, workers will receive close to a 14% wage increase over the life of the 3 year contract as well as a defined benefit pension plan and free eyeglasses or contact lenses every 2 years for employees and one dependent.
At the ratification, which passed with 99% approval, workers like Mimoza Sulejani expressed their excitement, “It means that we are together and everyone will be treated equally. Now we have rights and rules that management has to respect. As immigrant workers we can now demand respect! We now have fair raises and good health benefits!”.
The New England Joint Board of UNITE HERE represents nearly 8,000 workers in the six New England states and New York in the textile, garment, manufacturing, food service, distribution, laundry, and disability services industries.