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About 500 food service workers in cafeterias at the Federal Reserve of New York, Bloomberg Media, BNP Paribas bank, Benjamin Moore and five other locations in New York and New Jersey have voted to authorize a strike following a breakdown of contract negotiations with multinational food and service management company Sodexo.
The cafeteria workers belong to UNITE HERE Local 100, which represents 17,000 service workers in the city, Long Island and New Jersey.
Most of the contracts covering the 500 workers expired in December, but the agreement for cafeteria workers at the Fed building in lower Manhattan expired more than a year ago. Workers there voted to authorize a strike at any time.
The two sides are most at odds over wages. Local 100 members are seeking a $20 minimum hourly wage.
“The cost of everything is going up in New York,” said Ryllis Roberts, a Sodexo cafeteria cook at Bloomberg's midtown office. “For me to be making enough money, I need to do at least 10 hours of overtime a week."
Roberts has been working in food service for 23 years and told The Chief that she enjoys her job but feels that she needs to make more money, so she doesn’t have to take on the tiring overtime hours just to make ends meet. "I could be spending more time with my son and with my family instead of coming in,” she said.
Sodexo provides catering, facilities management, employee benefits and personal home services in 53 countries, employing 422,000 employees. The company announced robust increases in revenue and profit last year.
‘When we organize, we win’
Roberts and dozens of other Sodexo workers rallied outside of Bloomberg’s midtown office on Thursday where union leadership announced that, following the strike’s authorization, the company rescinded contract demands that would have made it easier to replace union workers with sub-contracted workers.
Union officials also said that the company had agreed to return to the bargaining table next week. Unite will in the meantime shelve plans to strike, though the successful vote still means that the union could call a walkout at any time.
“We need to celebrate! We have a victory,” Sussie Lozada, Local 100’s secretary-treasurer told animated rally attendees. “We won that because of the workers and because of our allies. When we organize, we win."
As the rally was taking place, Sodexo and Local 100 released a joint statement, saying that while the two sides have come to an agreement on “important issues,” other significant matters remain unresolved.
“The union and Sodexo have agreed to return to the bargaining table on March 17,” the statement said. “We are confident that we are on a path, with additional and continued good faith bargaining, to reach a full agreement on all issues soon that will be fair to our employees and union members.”
In the meantime, Roberts will continue to serve breakfast and lunch to Bloomberg employees and work evening events in the office building for the extra pay that she needs to support her family. She said she and her coworkers had received support from Bloomberg employees and cleaners, with several employees wearing UNITE HERE pins in solidarity.
“I’m not mad at Bloomberg, this is about Sodexo," Roberts said. “Just surviving in New York, we got to fight, and we need more money."
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