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Loyola Aramark Dining Union Members Ratify New Contract Avoiding Potential Strike

Nicky Andrews | The PhoenixLoyola Aramark workers have secured a new contract which includes a pay raise, increased benefits during layoffs, and improved schedules.

Loyola Aramark dining workers voted to ratify a new renegotiated contract April 28, which includes wage increases and new guaranteed benefits. 

Effective May 1, Loyola Dining employees will see a $4.95 hourly wage increase, with an additional $1.80 in hourly raises spread over the next two academic years, according to a summary of the contract obtained by The Phoenix. 

Employees will now earn an hourly wage of $21.45 on average. Under the previous contract, the average wage was around $16.50. The pay raise will be applied retrospectively to the hours employees have worked since Nov. 1, the summary said. 

The agreement comes at the culmination of several weeks of unsuccessful contract negotiations between the dining worker’s union UNITE HERE Local 1 and Aramark; and a union vote to authorize a strike, which passed overwhelmingly with 97% of employees voting in favor, April 11.

“I’m proud of all of my coworkers for sticking together so that we could win our new contract,” Jose Salas, lead utility worker in Damen Dining Hall, said in a statement provided by the union. “And I’d like to say a big thank you to all the students who stood with us.”

Dione Moore, the higher education district manager who oversees Aramark at Loyola, declined to comment.

Many of the issues raised by union members are addressed in the newly ratified contract, to varying extents. Health insurance benefits are now guaranteed to full-time employees. Aramark had not immediately reinstated their health benefits following their return from pandemic-induced layoff, workers previously told The Phoenix.

In the event of a layoff, employees will now continue receiving health care contributions from Aramark. In interviews, workers in de Nobili Dining Hall described losing their benefits when the facility was closed for a month following a kitchen fire. Other protections now in place in case of layoff include notifying employees of unit closure, severance pay and benefit contributions.

In previous meetings, Aramark denied to cede the union these measures, and had previously only offered a $1.75 raise, The Phoenix reported.

It also addresses concerns employees had regarding scheduling and hours. Workers will now be assigned eight and ten hour paid shifts, guaranteeing 40 hour work weeks. Overtime pay will be increased by half on the sixth overtime day a week and doubled on the seventh, and employees assigned to carry out training will receive an additional $2.00 per hour.

Student activists worked to garner support for the workers within the student body. They circulated a petition which received 2,000 signatures calling for better conditions for the workers and spread information regarding the conditions of the workers on social media.

Members of the Loyola Alliance of Socialists handed out buttons reading, “I Love Campus Workers” and held a rally to help make picket signs as preparations for a possible strike.

Jacob Plaza, a junior double majoring in philosophy and data science, and one of the lead student organizers attested to the effectiveness of collective bargaining.

“We won because the workers resolved to strike, and they had the courage to do so because they knew they’ve got each other’s backs, and that the Loyola community has got their backs too,” he said. “If we put our trust in one another and act in solidarity, we can effectuate real positive change, which benefits us all together.”

The new contract includes increased protections for workers who are immigrants and the addition of new designated holidays for employees. Upon hiring employees are allotted one week of vacation days, in the new contract employees are allowed three weeks vacation after their third year at Loyola, previously they would’ve needed to work for seven years.

There will be annual pension increases, totaling $3.30 by September 2024. Aramark has agreed to provide travel allowances to employees, lessening the cost of commuting to work. Aramark will provide employees either $40 a month in train and bus fares or $40 a month to pay for parking near the university.

The contract increases the time allowed for leaves of absence to nine months, and also introduces new parental leave policies. Six weeks of paid leave will be provided to mothers or the primary caregiver and two weeks for fathers or the second caregiver.

Aramark agreed to provide faster hearings regarding grievances and workers who are terminated. Regarding disciplinary matters, employees will now be offered a shop steward — an individual elected by workers to represent them in dealings with management — during investigatory meetings with Aramark management, according to the contract summary. 

The contract increases the number of uniforms which will be provided to employees and includes an annual $36 stipend for employees to purchase slip-resistant shoes to wear on the job.

If an employee is affected because of new technology or automation, there are newly introduced policies to protect their job. If automation does result in layoffs, workers will be paid for 20 additional weeks following their departure. 

In October 2021, dining workers at DePaul University and Northwestern University — both represented by UNITE HERE Local 1 — signed new contracts following the authorization of strikes. These contracts include similar raises and benefits to the new contract at Loyola.

Workers had previously re-negotiated their contract in March 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Phoenix reported. They were able to secure a $1.50 raise and paid leave for quarantine.

A similar scenario played out in 2016, when Loyola Aramark workers and UNITE HERE Local 1 were able to win a new contract after authorizing a strike, The Phoenix reported.

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