In Breakthrough, Unite Here To Represent Fast Food Workers At Smithsonian Eateries

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In Breakthrough, Unite Here To Represent Fast Food Workers At Smithsonian Eateries(Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO)

For Fred Turner, a 54-year-old fast food worker at a Smithsonian museum, things may be looking up: He’s got Unite Here on his side, and, in January, at the bargaining table for him.

That’s because, in another breakthrough for low-paid fast food workers nation-wide, Unite Here Local 23 in D.C. won the right to bargain with Restaurant Associates, the contractor that runs eateries at six Smithsonian museums.  It will represent Turner and 220 of his colleagues in the bargaining, which probably will start next month.

“We’re not just fighting for ourselves,” Turner said in a telephone interview with Press Associates Union News Service. Turner and his colleagues are part of a nationwide movement of fast food workers who have taken to the streets in 1-day walkouts to dramatize their demands for living wages, decent benefits and working conditions and the right to unionize. 

Turner’s situation is typical of those workers: After three years at Restaurant Associates’ eatery in the basement of the American History Museum, he earns $9.90 an hour working in the dishroom and the pastry shop. 

Turner was “hired to be full-time but works only part-time.”  He discovered that recently hired seasonal workers at the eatery earn more, and he can’t afford the firm’s health insurance.  There’s no job security and schedules aren’t based on seniority.

In short, like 2 million other workers who toil for federal contractors nationwide – as fast-food workers, janitors and in similar jobs – he’s overworked and underpaid.  “I want better pay, I want to have health insurance, I want respect on the job, better scheduling – and to work 40 hours.  I made the same amount at McDonald’s in 1977,” Turner adds.

Unite Here’s win to represent those workers is a breakthrough for a small fraction of the 2 million.  Lauren Burke, Local 23’s lead organizer of the Smithsonian eateries’ workers, explained the local – like the rest of the labor movement – advocates that Democratic President Barack Obama sign an executive order, applicable to the federal contractors, that makes a living wage for all those workers a condition of hiring those firms.  

Obama previously told a top advocate of those workers, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., that he would consider the issue, but has not acted.  Ellison sent another letter to Obama raising the issue of the workers’ wages, this week, hand-delivered.  Ellison has yet to receive responses from Obama.  And the workers, in their latest walkout, in early December, added their voices to the demand for Obama’s executive order.    


Powered by Orchid Suites
Orchid ver. 4.7.6.