About 350 food service union workers with Unite Here Local 26 went on strike this weekend in Boston, picketing out in front of both the Hynes Convention Center and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
The three-day strike, which ended yesterday with a rally in front of BCEC, occurred as a result of a dispute with Aramark Corp., the food service provider for both facilities, not with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which runs the Boston convention centers.
Brian Lang, vice president of Unite Here Local 26, called it an “unfair labor practice strike.” Local 26 filed a grievance against Aramark with the National Labor Relations Board for what it feels are transgressions, including firing two employees who were members of the union negotiating committee.
The 350 or so union workers have been without asince last September, when the last contract expired and negotiations began. The two sides have not been at the bargaining table since May. “We represent workers in the hospitality industry here in Boston. We realize that to take drastic measures can have an impact on the whole industry, so we‘ve tried to exercise a responsible approach to what’s going on. But at this point, Aramark has left us no alterative but to become much more public and take more drastic actions,” states Lang. The NLRB is reviewing the complaint. The two sides are also far apart on other “bread and butter” terms, as well, adds Lang,
Aramark spokeswoman Kristine Grow says the inability to reach an agreement stems less from regional issues with Local 26 and more from national issues with the international union, Unite Here. Grow says the union wants to organize “more of our employees, a greater percentage of our employees.” She says the company is working to come to an agreement with the Boston union and is handling it on a local level. However, no negotiating sessions have been set.
This weekend, the Health and Fitness Expo was being held at the Hynes while the strike was going on. At the BCEC, the Drug Information Association was holding its annual meeting. Grow said Aramark had a contingency plan in place to handle the workload during the strike, but would not discuss that plan.
Striking workers picketed from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. in front of the Hynes and BCEC on all three days. Workers were expected to return to work on Tuesday, but Lang says that they will continue to do “informational picketing” or leafleting against Aramark. They plan to contact groups coming into the facilities to let them know of the situation and urge them not to use Aramark services for food. “We are not boycotting the convention centers,” stressed Lang.
Already, the National Association of Letter Carriers announced that it is canceling its Aramark food service for its meeting planned for July 21-25 at the BCEC. It is the only food service cancellation that Grow is aware of.
In a statement, officials at MCCA said: "The convention center authority is not a party to the contract negotiations between Unite Here Local 26 and Aramark. We value the contribution food service workers have made to the success of the convention centers, and we believe they should receive a fair compensation package. We have urged Aramark to work with Local 26 to reach agreement on a new contract as quickly as possible for the benefit of the workers and for the benefit our customers who are so important to the success of the state's tourism industry."