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Aramark Employees Contemplate Strike

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Staff Reporter

Unionized employees of Aramark's food services operations at MITvoted 65 to 4 last week to authorize a strike against Aramark.

The vote "gives the union authorization to call a strike if [Aramark] does not come to a reasonable settlement to the negotiations," said Janice E. Loux, vice president of Local 26 of the International Hotel Workers Union.

The workers of Local 26 are concerned about the current state of negotiations, Loux said. "Aramark has got a very weak offer on the table," she said. "[They] are a very profitable national organization, and right now they're offering a wage freeze."

The union has held one negotiating session with Aramark and has several more sessions planned, Loux said. The organizing committee in the union will soon set a deadline for negotiations after which a strike could begin.

Union concerned with Aramark

The members of Local 26 are "very militant," Loux said. "They're a very strong union, and they understand what needs to be done if Aramark doesn't come through."

"What we're telling them is that the cost of living for us isn't going to freeze and they have to deal with that reality," she said. The union is looking for an increase in wages, benefits, and job security.

Elizabeth Emery, food services director for Aramark at MIT, declined to answer specific questions about the potential strike, saying that specifics would be discussed only at the bargaining table.

"We're in a difficult situation and we really want to do what's best for all parties and what's fair,"Emery said. She added that she hopes that an agreement can be reached without a strike.

The 100 unionized employees are currently working under a contract signed in 1993 that was indefinitely extended in June 1996.

Union has qualms with MIT

While the union's contract is with Aramark, it feels MITis controlling the negotiations, Loux said.

"MITmakes the decisions, and that is the philosophy behind our negotiations,"she said. "We don't really care who the contractor is. We care that MITdoes the right thing for the workers."

"We really have a campaign going against" MIT, Loux said. She added that the contract would be preserved even if Aramark were no longer the food service contractor of MIT.

"Local 26 is incorrect,"Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56 said. "The contract is between Aramark and Local 26. MITis not calling any of the shots."

Nonetheless, MIT officials expressed hope that contract negotiations could be successfully resolved. "In the end Ithink everyone will do the fair thing," Director of Housing and Food Services Lawrence E. Maguire said. "It's early in the game."

"In the end, MITis the client, and MITalways does fair things,"Maguire said.

Union prepared for strike

Loux said that the members of Local 26 would pull together if the MITfood service workers are forced to strike.

The 5,000 workers in Local 26 at area hotels "see MIT's fight as their fight,"Loux said. She added the last major strike by Local 26 - at the Park Plaza hotel - lasted 406 days. "That's the example of the persistence we have,"she said.

At the same time, the members of the union do not restrain themselves to picket lines, Loux said. "We've already begun teaching civil disobedience classes for our members."

Loux said the union would also picket the homes of MITadministrators in the event of a strike. "If the workers have to live with a strike and loss of income then the administrators - the board of trustees and the president - are going to have to live with it as well,"she said.

During the union's last strike, in 1987, the union picketed in front of the house of then-President Paul E. Gray '54 and held a large picket line and disruption at Commencement. Several students who protested at Commencement were arrested after the fact, but their charges were later dismissed under pressure from the Cambridge City Council.

That strike was caused by a freezing of food service workers pension funds when Aramark took over MIT's self-run food service operation. Eventually, the issue was resolved in favor of the workers.

"We were successful in the fight to restore the contract and move forward,"Loux said.