Dining Workers Ratify Contract with Wage Hike

Dining service workers ratified a new contract with Harvard University last night that will raise the wages of all workers, as well as ensuring that no worker employed for more than one year will earn less than $10.25 an hour--the figure set as Cambridge's "living wage."

The agreement came after a week of contentious negotiations between the University and the Local 26 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. Union leaders had agreed to strike if an agreement was not reached by Wednesday.

Union officials call the new contract the biggest economic gain for employees in the history of Local 26. Ninety-eight percent of union members at the meeting voted to accept the agreement.

"I think it was a great victory for the workers," said Local 26 President Janice Loux.

The new contract raises wages for the two tiers of employees that make up Harvard University Dining Services--the lower-paid "cash operations" workers who serve at campus restaurants and the "board operations" members who serve in dining halls. For board operations, the increase will be $2.05 per hour hour across the board.

Under the contract, Harvard also agreed to a 10 percent cap on the number of hours worked by "casuals"--temporary employees who do not receive fringe benefits.

The reduction of casual employees was cited by workers as crucial to their job security during negotiations.

There were a number of new clauses in the contract to strengthen the union. The new contract allows for up to four employees to take a one-year leave of absence to work for Local 26, for workers to wear designated union buttons on their uniforms, and for union dues authorization cards to be included in the orientation cards of new employees.