Dining hall workers and students celebrate the winning vote for the unionization of dining hall workers at Chase Center on Apr. 24. Christine Lee / The Tufts Daily

Dining Service workers vote to unionize, collective bargaining to follow

Tufts Dining Services employees voted decisively to unionize with UNITE HERE Local 26 on Tuesday. The vote tally for the election, organized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), was 127 in favor of unionization and 19 against, with 1 void ballot and 11 challenges, surpassing the simple majority required to secure a union victory. About 89.8 percent of 176 eligible voters cast ballots, according to NLRB Field Attorney Miriam Hasbún.

The results of the election still need to be certified, according to Hasbún. If the results are certified, Tufts will be required to recognize UNITE HERE as full- and part-time dining workers’ exclusive collective bargaining agent. The vote did not include supervisors, managerial staff or current Tufts students, according to the NLRB’s election notice.

More than 75 percent of dining staff previously signed a union petition that was filed with the NLRB’s Boston office on April 3, exceeding the 30 percent minimum needed to guarantee an election.

UNITE HERE Local 26 represents thousands of hospitality workers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including the Harvard University dining staff who earned a new contract after striking for more than three weeks in fall 2016, according to the union’s website.

Dozens of Tufts dining workers and students gathered inside Carmichael Hall, the polling location, on Tuesday afternoon to watch the vote-counting. Less than 45 minutes after polling closed at 4:30 p.m., Hasbún announced the results followed by cheers from the audience.

Immediately after the election, groups of employees and students celebrated the outcome of the vote. Carmichael Dining Center cook Sahra Warsame said she was stunned after the vote, explaining that she hopes to see Dining Service return to a familial atmosphere rather than the more frustrating work environment that she says has arisen in recent years.

“Hopefully, with the union, we can go back to semi-normal,” Warsame told the Daily.

In particular, Kindlevan Café attendant Trish O’Brien said she wants to see help with rising healthcare costs, equal benefits for temporary workers and additional staff to fill vacancies.

“We can’t live the way were living,” O’Brien said. “We were going home exhausted. There’s not enough people working here.”

UNITE HERE organizer Mike Kramer told the Daily that, following this week’s show of unity, dining staff will work to decide on their priorities for a collective bargaining agreement. He called on Tufts to begin discussions as soon as possible, pointing to when the majority of Dining Service workers presented a petition to administrators at Ballou Hall earlier this month.

“The dining workers showed several weeks ago that they had formed a union,” Kramer said.

University President Anthony Monaco said in a statement to the Daily that he supports workers’ right to decide on unionization and respects the outcome of the election.

“I have the utmost admiration for our dining services workers and the way in which they contribute to our community,” Monaco said in the statement.

This week’s vote comes almost a year after graduate students in Tufts’ School of Arts and Sciences (A&S) chose to unionize, and more than three years after A&S part-time faculty formed a union. Tufts’ executive director of public relations Patrick Collins says the school also recognizes Dining Service workers’ right to collective bargaining.

“We respect our dining workers’ decision, we are pleased that workers had the opportunity to express their opinions on this important issue, and we thank those workers who took the time to cast a ballot,” Collins told the Daily in an email. “As is the case with all unions at Tufts, we are committed to bargaining in good faith as we move forward.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted as a breaking news story; it has since been expanded and updated.

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