The Hopkins Dining union, represented by UNITE HERE Local 7, held a forum for students and dining workers on their ongoing negotiations with the University in the Homewood Friends Meeting space on Nov. 9. The forum followed a picket line demonstration on Nov. 2 and a meeting with the University on Nov. 4, during which they failed to reach a consensus on job security.
Last year, UNITE HERE Local 7 covered the University’s dining hall workers through a contract with Bon Appetit, the management company that previously provided the University’s dining services. In light of the University’s transition to self-operated dining this year, the union has been negotiating with Hopkins since December to sign a similar contract.
While the University rehired all employees who worked for Bon Appetit last year, they have been hiring additional dining workers this year through a temporary agency. These additional workers are not covered by the union. The University wants to retain the right to hire some dining staff in this way, while the union is asking them to agree to directly hire all employees so that the contract will apply to all dining workers.
In an email to The News-Letter, Assistant Vice President for Media Relations and News J.B. Bird noted that the University believes that it has addressed the issue of job security.
“JHU agreed to the wage package proposed by the union,“ he wrote. “The Union expressed concerns about employee job security, and we addressed that by committing to maintaining no fewer than 175 employees directly employed by JHU, and that no employee would lose their job to a contractor.”
Herbekian also mentioned that they would like to see the University replicate Bon Appétit’s contributions to a fund that prepared workers with little food service experience for employment.
“We had a training fund that was actually training people to be ready [for employment] under Bon Appetit, [and] the employer helped contribute to that training fund,” Herbekian said. “Hopkins is saying no.”
Bird explained that the training offered through the training fund is not limited to food service and is available to other occupations and other locations as well.
“While that is an admirable goal, JHU chose instead to use the resources that might have been used for the training fund to directly support our employees,“ he wrote.
The University stated that they were not willing to negotiate further on Nov. 4 and encouraged the union to have the workers vote on their offer. Bird emphasized that the University had met 21 times with the Union to negotiate between December 2021 and November 4, 2022 and also had three sidebar discussions.
“In an effort to reach a timely agreement following more than 10 months of productive, good-faith negotiations, JHU presented UNITE HERE with its last, best, and final offer,” he wrote. “JHU has embraced our new employees and wants them to be able to benefit from the new contract once it is ratified.”
The workers present at the forum on Nov. 9 voted and voting continued through Nov. 11. The University offered workers a bonus if they voted to sign the contract as it currently stands by Thanksgiving. Herbekian commented on this offer.
“We'd like to see people get that but we don't want [them] to get it and then have no job security, [so] we are recommending a no vote,” she said. “Our push right now is to get them back to the table.”
As of Nov. 15, the members of UNITE HERE Local 7 voted against accepting the offer presented by the University. They have informed the University and asked that discussions continue.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Lisa Brown, a dining worker and Baltimore native who has worked at Hopkins for 31 years, asserted that because the contract remains unsigned, dining workers are not being paid for sick days.
“I feel like we’re gaining and losing right now, and because [we've been] negotiating so long, we can't use sick time,” she said. “We have so many people sick and our checks don't look like nothing.”
Chrystal Files, a dining worker in Levering Kitchens, emphasized the significance of her job in an interview with The News-Letter.
“We make everything for the kids and we make sure we know what they like,” she said. “We work hard because without them I wouldn't have a job.”
In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Rohit Sivananthan shared his takeaway from the forum.
“Tonight was about motivating those [workers] who showed up [to vote no and] making their struggle public to faculty, students and grad students,“ he said. “If I had been a [dining worker], I would have been really motivated.”