After months of working with no contract and facing the prospect of losing the free family health benefits that they’d been receiving for years, the cafeteria workers at Hunter College finally won a collective bargaining agreement from AVI Foodsystems. This contract — ratified unanimously on October 27 — includes free family health benefits, a significant employer contribution to the employee’s retirement plan, and substantial wage increases over the next three years.
This victory did not come without a struggle. The fact that the workers got to keep their wages, will get a raise the next two years, and will get to keep their health benefits, resulted in large part from the worker and student actions that took place on the Hunter campus.
On September 3rd 2009, the workers staged a 15-minute work stoppage and rallied for health benefits and pension inside the cafeteria in front of students in the middle of the lunch hour rush (see the video of that action here). Soon after, the workers and their union, Unite Here Local 100, reached out to the Hunter College students and faculty for support. After weeks of organizing and with the great support from the Professional Staff Congress, the CUNY faculty union, the Hunter College community staged a rally of around 150 people at the Hunter College main campus on October 5th. Lisa Cooper, a food service workers at Hunter College for 24 years who spoke at the rally said afterwards: "We had great support from the students and the faculty. The rally was really wonderful. I’m so proud of everybody; students, faculty and everybody. I thank them all."
After an unsuccessful negotiation on October 8th, Hunter students and faculty began organizing a boycott of AVI at the Hunter College cafeteria to take place on October 29th unless AVI agreed to give the workers a fair contract. Students and faculty collected over 1000 pledges to boycott the cafeteria on the 29th. Then, on Friday October 23, facing the prospect of an impending boycott, AVI finally agreed to the workers’ reasonable requests. As a result, the boycott was canceled, and the workers were able to celebrate their victory.
Deborah Johnson, a cashier at Hunter College for ten years summed up their month-long struggle with AVI: "It was really stressful for all of us not knowing if we were going to have any health coverage …[but] we’re survivors. To get a bonus, that was wonderful. To get our health benefits. To get the 401k union plan. That’s something we really wanted to have. And we got what we want."
For more information, visit www.StiritUpCampaign.org