Labor unions haven’t had much success expanding their member base in recent years, either in the Show-Me State or across the country. Missouri became the 28th Right to Work state in February when Republican control of the legislature and the governor’s seat allowed for quick passage of a law after several failed attempts.
Right to Work is a condition that allows employees to opt out of joining unions in work places where those organizations bargain for their pay and benefits.
The statute has been delayed from taking effect because of labor efforts that have been successful in getting it to a referendum before voters next year. But overall, unions have been struggling to retain a foothold in recent times.
So, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) was somewhat thrilled to announce its recent agreement to represent food service workers at Washington University in St. Louis.
UCFW spokesperson Collin Reischman says the contract brings the largest group of new union workers into its fold in a couple of years.
“This is a group of people that went from being, not in a union, to being in a union with a contract, basically after one vote,” said Reischman. “To us, we thought it was important, because look, to be totally candid with you, not a lot of unions are growing. We’ve seen labor, sort of be shrinking the last couple of decades. I don’t think anyone can deny that.”
The new contact was approved by the employees of Bon Appetit at Washington University by a 54% margin. The 300 workers will get a wage increase of between 11% and 14% over the next three years.
According to its web site, Bon Appetit is an on-site restaurant company offering full food service management to corporations, universities, museums, and specialty venues.
Reischman indicated the firm provides food service for several other businesses and schools in the St. Louis area and stated UCFW could sign union contracts with those operations in the future. Some of the large businesses include MasterCard and Pfizer. Reischman said the Bon Appetit employees at Washington University now have some guarantees at the work place they didn’t have before.
“Folks were showing up to work their six-hour shift, and a lot of these folks are folks taking public transport, so they they’re showing up, and then it turns out ‘Oh it’s a slow day. We don’t need you. Go Home’. So now, if they tell you to go home, they either have to pay you for four hours of work, or work you for four hours and do your normal pay scale.”
Mandatory split shifts are another practice ending for the Bon Appetit workers at Washington University.
As it stands now, the public vote on the Missouri’s Right to Work law is set for next November. The business-friendly Republican dominated state legislature could move the election to another date when a smaller turnout could favor a vote to keep the statute in place.
November’s election will likely draw supporters of Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, who’s in a tight reelection campaign, leading up to the polls. Unions typically receive strong backing from Democrats.
UFCW’s Reischman says labor unions are still fighting to stay relevant, given the challenges they face from business interests.
“Labor’s having trouble in some places,” Reischman said. “Obviously, politically we’re in a bunch of fights. But look, we’re still out there. All of our organizers who I share an office with are out there right now trying to organize another location to grow the union.”