“It was the greatest moment of my life,” said Janet Irving, who’s worked in food services at Loyola for 30 years and is a shop stewardess for the Aramark employee’s union.
After several unsuccessful attempts to unionize over the years due to employees’ fear of losing their jobs for joining the unionization effort, Aramark employees successfully unionized in September 2011. The year-long process saw contributions from students and community members.
“I think that’s the reason why we got it, because the students and the priest [were] with us,” said Irving, referring to the support given by the Rev. Dominic Grassi, S.J., of nearby St. Gertrude’s Parish.
“[Before the union was formed], management didn’t acknowledge us as real workers. We were nobody. Now we have a job that we’re proud of and we’re happy to be coming to. And we’re making a little more money,” Irving said.
Irving said greater respect from the managers and the establishment of a pension were important for workers like her who have been working at Loyola for decades.
In October 2010, a group of 20 Aramark workers, along with Loyola students and coordinators from Unite Here, a national union organizer, presented a petition to Aramark management. It was signed by about 70 percent of the 200 Aramark employees. The petition asked the company to not interfere while union organizers sought signatures from workers who wanted to join the union.
Unite Here is a labor union with 270,000 members in the hospitality, food service, manufacturing and airport industries. Loyola’s Aramark employees are members of Unite Here’s Local 1, which represents Chicago. Aramark has had contracts with other Unite Here chapters in the past.
Students also presented a letter of support for the movement with more than 1000 signatures. Irving said she and others talked to classes and received a lot of support.
A week later, Aramark agreed to remain neutral during the signing process.
On Nov. 2, Aramark agreed to stay out of the voting process and recognize a union if a majority of employees voted to form one. The vote occurred in May and the necessary majority was successfully achieved.
Over the next year, negotiations took place between Aramark and Unite Here. Participants in the negotiations included Loyola students who worked for Aramark or supported the unionization effort.
In September of 2011, a four-year contract recognized the worker’s unionization as a chapter of Unite Here.
Today, Aramark’s Loyola operations employ about 300 people; numbers have increased because of the new Damen Student Center, according to Aramark’s Resident District Manager Amy Trujillo.
Trujillo was not manager at the time of the unionization, but said she’s seen its effects. She cited recognition of employee seniority when it comes to scheduling work hours, more specific classifications of positions and pay rates for each position as the biggest changes.
“Other than that, managing, training and on-board discipline have all been consistent,” said Trujillo.
The union contract expires this September, so negotiations between Aramark, the union and workers will take place this summer.
Irving, who is considering being a part of the negotiations, said important issues will be the clarification of the attendance policy and position descriptions.
Looking forward, Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) members Melinda Bunnage, Kelsey Cheng and Michael Fasullo are forming an organization called Students for Worker Justice. Bunnage said they will be working to bridge relations between students and workers.
Bunnage says their ultimate goal is to implement the Jesuit Just Employment Policy, asking for higher wage standards.
“We’re a Catholic school, so everyone here should be making a living wage,” said Irving.