Union Could Picket Clinton Event at Northeastern University

(Updated) Workers say wages are at odds with CGI's calls for justice

Northeastern University

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Hundreds of food service workers at Northeastern University could strike during a major Clinton Global Initiative event at the school.

Members of UNITE HERE Local 26 voted to authorize a strike in the run-up to the CGI University (CGIU) October 13 conference at the university as they campaign to raise average wages from $22,000 to $35,000 per year. Negotiations have stalled since talks began in April and the union says "Bill and Chelsea Clinton will encounter picket lines when they plan to attend the CGIU event."

"It's hypocritical of the Northeastern administration to host the Clinton Foundation conference while they force the Northeastern dining hall workers out on strike with poverty wages that disproportionately impact the people of color and women in these jobs," Local 26 President Brian Lang said in a statement. "Certainly this irony isn't lost on the Clintons."

Neither the Clinton Foundation, nor the Clinton Global Initiative responded to requests for comment.

The union says it is looking to end the "poverty jobs Northeastern offers" its workforce, which consists largely of "workers of color" and many immigrants. Many have turned to public housing and assistance to make up for low wages. Union member Roxanna Santana said Northeastern's low wages could prevent her own daughter from attending college when she graduates high school next year.

"Even though I work full-time at a wealthy university, I'm forced to live in low-income housing and am facing eviction right now," Santana said in a release. "My daughter wants to go to college next year like all the students I serve on the Northeastern campus, but I cannot afford to send her, or save for my family's future."

A university spokesman said the school engaged in "good-faith negotiations" and that its vendor, Chartwells, had offered "to increase wages for dining hall workers by 27 percent over the next five years." That proposal would provide $35,000 to those workers within three years and also praised Chartwell for providing "a very generous healthcare benefit" to workers. The school does not expect the strike to disrupt its services.

"Should the union vote to strike, Chartwells has assured Northeastern that dining operations will continue without disruption for students, faculty, and staff who rely on them on a daily basis," the spokesman said. "It is the university’s hope that in the coming days union leaders and Chartwells will reach an amicable agreement."

CGIU provides grant funding to student organizations or individuals to "address issues on campus, in local communities, or around the world." One of its core focuses is "poverty alleviation" to help resolve "scarce job opportunities, social exclusion, political instability, violent conflict, food insecurity, demographic pressures, and human migration" among impoverished workers.

The union endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, citing her "decades-long commitment to affordable health care for working families," and praising her as a "staunch advocate for immigrant families." The union played a central role in helping her win Nevada, despite President Donald Trump's consistent lead in the polls even as union members and blue collar workers in the Rust Belt broke with union leadership to vote against Clinton. The union spent $3.8 million on the 2016 election with nearly all of it going to support Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The union urged the former president and first daughter to join the low-wage workers as a sign of solidarity.

"UNITE HERE Local 26 is calling on the Clintons and CGI to not break the worker strike and cross the picket line this week: to instead play a crucial role in resolving this conflict which at its core is about the alleviation of poverty for women and people of color," it said in a release.

The strike could begin on October 11, just two days before the Clintons and their supporters arrive in town.

UPDATE 2:15 PM: This post has been updated to include a statement from a Northeastern University spokesman.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.

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