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University of Miami cafeteria workers sign contract for better pay, healthcare

 

mherrera@miamiherald.com

University of Miami cafeteria workers have signed a contract Friday with their employer, Chartwells, after a long battle that drew sympathy from many professors and students.

Workers were relieved to finally come to an agreement after the two year struggle with Chartwells.

“I’m just glad that it’s all over and that we’re going to be respected as human beings,” said Linda Bellinger, a Chartwells employee and member of the contract bargaining committee.

The agreement includes a minimum raise of 95 cents per hour over the next three years, according to their union, 32BJ SEIU. A Chartwells spokeswoman confirmed Friday that the company had reached a contract with the workers, but she did not have the details of the deal. The employer previously increased the minimum hourly pay from $8 to $9.30 when the workers began their fight for unionization last year.

The contract also signs the workers to a health insurance plan with no deductible and average copayments of $20, according to the union.

Better health insurance was one of the key issues for workers, many of whom could not afford health insurance. Bellinger, who has worked for Chartwells for a decade, said the health insurance was the biggest win for workers.

“There are a lot of people who need a lot of healthcare, and it’s going to help us tremendously,” Bellinger said.

Many workers have been avoiding treating medical conditions because they could not afford the insurance, said Eric Brakken, director of 32BJ SEIU Florida.

In addition to the salary increase and healthcare, the contract allows workers to file complaints if they feel that they have been mistreated or that their contract has been violated. For many employees, it means being able to speak up without fear of being fired.

“That respect issue was a big victory for us,” Bellinger said.

Brakken said the workers were glad they will be able to speak out.

“They’re feeling like they really now have a voice in their jobs, a voice at the university, and respect,” Brakken said.

The contract will also favor seniority, meaning hours must be given to workers who have been with the company the longest. Because the dining hall hours are extremely limited over the summer while the majority of students are out of town, these measures will make a big difference for some employees.

Over the years, Bellinger has seen “a lot of disrespect” from managers and supervisors at Chartwells.

“They have to look at what they say and what they do to us from now on,” she said. .

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