Over the past six months, DC food service workers have joined together across their different campuses and communities to fight for greater access to fresh, healthy food and good, sustainable jobs. Yesterday, workers at American University announced a major step forward in their struggle for real food and real jobs. In a landmark agreement, workers and Bon Appétit Management Company signed a new union contract that significantly improves working conditions and paves the way for increased worker participation in campus sustainability efforts. In addition to increased wages, improved health care benefits, greater employer contributions into worker pensions, and stronger guarantees of a 40-hour workweek, the new contract will give workers a bigger voice in the university’s sustainability efforts.
Bon Appétit management will now actively solicit and incorporate input from cafeteria workers. A real food committee, with representatives including both worker leaders and Bon Appétit local and regional management, will meet quarterly to identify and promote best practices for purchasing and serving real food. To ensure everyone’s ongoing input into food sourcing and preparation decisions, this committee will conduct an annual survey of all cafeteria workers. Workers will be encouraged to share their ideas for how to incorporate more real food into their menus, as well as to voice their concerns about food quality and safety issues. Finally, to further develop their skills as real food cooks and advocates, workers will receive regular paid training in sustainable food preparation.
Carmen McRae, a member of the worker contract negotiating committee, said, “We got everything we asked for. We all worked so hard on this, with the help of the students and the community.” Dolores Ratcliffe, also a member of the negotiating committee, seconded Carmen’s excitement, saying, “I’m especially excited about the training and the paid sick days. I feel like jumping up and down!”
Coming off last month’s impressive 120-person delegation to Bon Appétit management, worker and student leaders were thrilled to secure an agreement sets such a strong example for the rest of the city’s universities. Kevin Nelson, another worker leader, said he hopes that the new contract is only the beginning of the fight for real food and real jobs in DC, “It’s been a long time coming. Being part of this contract renegotiation will hopefully make all of us more aware of our rights. I’m very satisfied. Hopefully we can use this force and momentum to carry this movement forward.”
American University is the first of five DC universities to settle a new contract with UNITE HERE Local 23 workers this year. Across the city, workers at Gallaudet University, Georgetown University Law School, Howard University, and Trinity Washington University will continue to rally together for real food and real jobs, hoping to follow AU’s lead and add their voices to the creation of a sustainable future on their campuses and beyond.