Northeastern University dining hall workers win “life changing” gains in new contract

Photo: Northeastern dining hall workers celebrate their victory in negotiations. Credit — UNITE HERE Local 26

On September 13, the dining workers at Northeastern University (NEU) ratified their new contract with an overwhelming majority. The old contract was originally set to expire on August 31 before both sides agreed to a two-week extension. The Contract Committee and Chartwells, a subsidiary of Compass Group – the largest foodservice provider in the world – reached a Tentative Agreement at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday, September 7. The bargaining session had begun at 3:00 p.m. the day before. After months of bargaining, the workers won all of their demands, most notably a $9.32 hourly pay raise over the next four and a half years.

The dining workers joined UNITE HERE Local 26 in 2012, and they have since won three contracts, each better than the last. By the end of this new contract, the cooks, servers, dishwashers, baristas, and cashiers at NEU will have seen their pay triple in that time.

Though working tirelessly to feed the NEU students, the dining workers have historically not received the respect they deserved. Chartwells @ Northeastern paid poverty wages as low as $9-$10 an hour just ten years ago. A majority of the workers are forced to rely on housing assistance funds. Two out of three dining workers experienced food insecurity during the last year, with problems compounded during the pandemic. Workers who called out sick were not replaced, and so one person was forced to do the job of two or three. This is unacceptable.

After being dragged through months of negotiations, dining workers secured all of their demands, including a huge pay increase, which will bring their wages to parity with dining workers at nearby MIT and Harvard. In addition, 75% of the jobs are guaranteed to be 40 hours per week. Before, workers were limited to 37.5 hours. Their pension contributions per hour worked will quadruple from their current level during the new contact. Healthcare costs will be cut in half. This wouldn’t have been possible without the workers’ steadfast unity, especially around their core demands.

Angela Bello, a food service worker and member of the bargaining committee, said in a Local 26 press release that the pension fund increases will be life-changing. “I have many co-workers who are still working past the age of 65. When I see them, I see myself in them. They don’t want to have to keep working, but they do it because the Social Security money is not enough to live on. $900 a month cannot even pay rent. Even though they have worked here for decades, they don’t have money to save in their 401(k). Our pay was so low for so long that after we feed our family, we don’t have any money to set aside for the future. But now we have won a real retirement pension that will allow us to retire with dignity. This is truly life-changing for us.”

Thomas Gross, a grill cook, shared “Since the pandemic, we have been understaffed and overworked. Everyone was tired, working morning to night, but the workers felt like they couldn’t say no because they needed the money. But with this new contract, by early 2026 I will be making more than $30 an hour. It makes a huge difference in my life. It means having more money in my pocket, no longer having to live paycheck to paycheck. I can spend more money on my mother, my nieces, my family.”

NEU students displayed powerful solidarity with the dining workers. The students formed Huskies Organizing with Labor (HOWL). Last spring, the coalition held one of the largest demonstrations ever seen on campus.

This agreement is the first step towards strong contracts for all university dining workers across Boston.

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