Employees at Chi-Chi's restaurant on Mass Ave will vote today on whether to unionize through Local 26 of the AFL-CIO, which represents Harvard's 500 dining hall workers.
President of Local 26, Dominic N. Bozzotto, said yesterday that the vote is a response to employees' "need for the security of a contract."
"Employees approached us early this fall, not because of terrible working conditions, but because they want a wage and employment structure based on seniority," Bozzotto said.
Phillippe Simon, fired two weeks ago from Chi-Chi's, said yesterday. "Salary increases are made indiscriminately." He added that working conditions are poor, citing slippery floors, bad ventilation, and under-manned shifts.
Rod Futterweit, an employee who opposes unionization, said yesterday, "Conditions are improving steadily, I see no reason to complain."
Garrick Steele, owner of the Cambridge Chi-Chi's franchise, refused to comment yesterday on the unionizing effort. Chi-Chis has 125 employees, and 97 workers are eligible to vote.
"Our main concern is that we protect the rights of our employees so it is best that we refrain from comment at this time," Michael Larkin, a manager at Chi-Chi's, said last night.
The vote at Chi-Chi's follows a similar union organizational effort at Ferdinand's, a restaurant on Mt. Auburn Street, earlier this winter. As a result of the dispute between management and employees over unionization, Ferdinand's has been closed since January 4 "until further notice."
Management at Chi-Chi's would not comment when asked whether the restaurant would close if the employees vote to unionize.
Bozzotto is optimistic about the union's chances. But he added. "We might lose votes because of employees' loyalty to the current management."
Forty per cent of Chi-Chi's workers filed cards requesting the vote. Local 26 organizer Kevin Sidela said yesterday. Only 30 per cent of employees must sign cards to call a vote under the National Labor Relations Act regulations.
If the unionization proposal is accepted by the employees, a contract will be negotiated immediately after the elections. Bozzotto said. He added, "The contract will include guaranteed steady days-off, health benefits and seniority clauses."
Chi-Chi's is a chain of 35 restaurants, centered in Louisville, Ky. Each franchise is individually owned, and a spokesman at the chain's headquarters said yesterday that Cambridge is the only place where Chi-Chi's workers are trying to unionize.
The Cambridge Chi-Chi's opened last June. David R. Jones, manager of the restaurant, said yesterday, "By anyone's standards we are doing well," he added