Faculty House workers voted to authorize a strike Thursday, the latest escalation in the employees’ negotiations with Columbia over a new contract.
The vote means that the employees, who are represented by the Local 100 union, will now be able to take any form of “economic action” up to and including a strike. Before a full strike, workers have the right to stage multiple walkouts, which can happen at any time without notice—even during a wedding in progress at Faculty House, for example.
After the vote was passed, applause and chants from both workers and student supporters in Student-Worker Solidarity group, filled the room.
The decision came after a negotiation on Monday during which Sheila Garvey, Columbia’s assistant vice president of labor relations, refused to begin with student supporters present, union leaders said. According to Faculty House employees, Garvey and administrators have done the same in past negotiation sessions.
The University did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.
Faculty House employees say they are being denied a 22 percent service charge, receiving little to no wage increases compared to other campus unions, and don’t get unemployment benefits during summer and winter breaks.
“We’re like Oliver Twist,” Osmond Cousins, a cook at Faculty House, said. “How dare we ask for a second bowl of porridge? We’re getting our ears boxed.”
The decision to authorize a strike comes just a month before the workers’ contract and health insurance expire on March 31.
“The fear today of the strike is, the insurance means a lot to all of us. To pay insurance out of pocket is impossible,” said Cousins.
Renata Malionowski, a waitress at the Faculty House, said she was nervous.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “We’ve been having meetings like this every day. We’ve received nothing. I hope this will make something happen.”
Since the start of the semester, SWS has staged several protests in support of the workers.
“They’ve put us in the face of the community,” Cousins said of SWS and other student groups who have supported their effort. “They are the gasoline to our empty vessel. Without you guys, we wouldn’t have done anything that’s worthwhile.”
But at the same time, the rhetoric the workers are using has become graver.
“They are like slave drivers, plantation owners,” Cousins said of administrators.
Juan Aquino, a caterer for Faculty House, accused Garvey of xenophobic language.
“She looks at us across the table, and she sees a bunch of immigrants,” he said. “She thinks we speak with an accent, so we think with an accent, too.”