Metro

Northeastern dining hall workers vote to authorize strike

More than 300 dining hall workers at Northeastern University voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize a strike if a contract agreement isn’t reached in coming days, their labor union announced.

Members of Unite Here Local 26 voted 316-2 to strike if a contract agreement with the school’s food service vendor, Chartwells, isn’t reached by the end of the day on Oct. 10, said Tiffany Ten Eyck, a spokeswoman for the union. The workers would start the strike the following day if no agreement is reached, said Ten Eyck.

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“They’re prepared for an indefinite strike,” she said.

Messages left with Chartwells were not returned Wednesday night.

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The union is seeking a minimum annual income of $35,000 for full-time work and more affordable health care coverage, said Ten Eyck. Some dining hall workers at the school rely on public assistance even though they work full-time, said Ten Eyck.

The union and the vendor have been negotiating a new contract since April, said Ten Eyck. The previous, 5-year contract expired at the end of August, but was extended through this Saturday, said Ten Eyck.

“I believe in what we’re fighting for,” said Shante McCorvey, a 36-year-old prep cook who has worked at Northeastern for four years, on Wednesday.

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McCorvey, a mother of three who lives in a two-bedroom low-income housing unit in Dorchester, said earning $35,000 a year could make moving into a larger home possible.

“It would be good for me to have bigger space,” she said.

The health insurance offered through Chartwells is too expensive for many of the dining hall workers, said McCorvey.

“The health insurance they’re offering, we can’t afford it with the money we get,” she said. “It’s not enough.”

In a statement before the strike vote was announced, the university said Chartwells had assured Northeastern that the campus dining operations would continue “without disruption for students, faculty, and staff who rely on them on a daily basis” should a strike occur.

Chartwells, said Northeastern in its statement, is offering to increase wages for dining hall workers by 27 percent over the next five years.

“This proposal ensures that all food service workers will receive a pay raise, and all will earn at least $35,000 annually within three years,” said the school.

Chartwells, according to the university, is also willing to “continue” to offer health care coverage wherein “90 percent of employee premiums are paid by the employer.”

“It is the university’s hope that in the coming days union leaders and Chartwells will reach an amicable agreement,” said the school in its statement.

The vote for the Northeastern strike occurred almost a year to the day after 750 dining hall workers at Harvard University walked off their jobs, which marked the first work stoppage at that school since 1983.

Those workers were also represented by Unite Here Local 26. At that time, the union’s demands included a minimum full-time salary, no increases in health insurance costs, and compensation for employees who are laid off during the summer.

Kathleen Conti and Adam Vaccaro of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.
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