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By Rhonda Smith
May 10 — UNITE HERE members employed in cafeterias at 15 U.S. government buildings in or near Washington, D.C., have ratified a three-year contract with food services company I.L. Creations, the parties said May 10.
The agreement increases annual hourly wages; enhances medical, dental and vision benefits; and expands employer contributions to workers' pension and education funds, Matthew Yoo, senior vice president of Rockville, Md.-based I.L. Creations, told Bloomberg BNA.
“We reached what we believe is fair pay and benefits for our employees,” he said.
The 240 subcontracted workers covered by the contract—dishwashers, food runners, cooks and cashiers, primarily—are employed in different federal buildings in or near Washington. The buildings house employees at the agriculture, commerce, energy and state departments as well as at the Library of Congress.
Among members of UNITE HERE's Local 23 who were eligible to vote on the contract proposal, 98 percent supported ratification, Adam Yalowitz, a research analyst for the local, told Bloomberg BNA.
“The company has set a great new standard for government food services workers in the D.C. area,” he said.
UNITE HERE represents workers in the U.S. and Canada employed primarily in hotel, gaming, food service, airport, textile, manufacturing, distribution, laundry and transportation industries.
Local 23 represents 1,200 cafeteria workers at 37 government buildings in the Washington area. Union officials said those workers are covered by 14 collective bargaining agreements set to expire in 2016 and 2017.
At the end of the ratified contract's three-year term, the average hourly wage for workers covered by it will range from $13.50 to close to $14, the union and the employer said. Employees will receive a total hourly wage increase of $1.40—40 cents per hour upon ratification and 25 cents per hour, respectively, on Feb. 1 and Aug. 1 in 2017, and on Feb. 1 and Aug. 1 in 2018.
Beginning in 2017, employees covered by the contract will for the first time receive dental and vision coverage, fully paid for by I.L. Creations.
The employer also agreed to increase its annual contribution rate toward workers' health benefits, Yoo said. On average, the company now pays about 90 percent of the workers' health-care premium.
“We agreed to provide an additional 1 percent increase in premium payments annually” under the new contract, Yoo said.
The company also agreed to boost its annual contribution to the employees' pension plan by 5 cents per employee, per hour worked during the contract's three-year term, Yalowitz said.
In addition, I.L. Creations agreed to increase its contribution to the employees' education and training fund by 1 cent per employee, per hour worked each year the agreement is in effect. This would bring the company's total contribution to the education fund to 7 cents per employee, per hour worked, Yalowitz said.
He also said the agreement for the first time includes “historic civil rights language” created to protect workers from job losses tied to being unexpectedly detained by law enforcement officials for reasons such as having their immigration status checked.
“We thought it was important to include job protections in case people miss work for reasons beyond their control,” Yalowitz said. “We've seen this in other cities, such as Indianapolis.”
Not all cafeteria workers employed by contractors that have agreements with the federal government have secured union representation.
In December, subcontracted cafeteria workers for the Senate launched a one-day strike for the sixth time in the past year as part of an ongoing campaign led by Change to Win, a labor federation. Their goal is to garner a minimum hourly wage of $15 and union representation (235 DLR A-4, 12/8/15).
The employees work in cafeterias at the Dirksen Senate Office Building and at the Capitol Visitor Center. They are employed by the Compass Group, a British-based contractor that owns Restaurant Associates, a private food services company.
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Text of the union's contract summary is available at http://src.bna.com/eRL.
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