Title media by
Garrett Diegnan

José Taibot, a food worker of six years at Stetson East’s Levine Dining Hall, experienced an unprompted heart attack during the middle of his workday in 2008. Most reputable contractors would have immediately allowed Taibot to take medical leave. However, Chartwells the employer of the entirety of Northeastern University’s dining hall workers, was not nearly as understanding. After staying overnight at the hospital for an entire week, Taibot received reduced “sick day” pay from management, hardly enough to cover his exorbitant medical bills; after all, Chartwells only provided the federally mandated minimum essential coverage.

Taibot’s experience is only one of the countless instances in which dining hall workers have been abused, mistreated, and disrespected. After moving to Boston in 2001, José Taibot found himself employed and stationed at Levine Dining Hall and Churchill Hall for 21 years. Because he has witnessed both the working conditions before and after their initial unionization with Local 26, Taibot occupies a unique position: he understands that, through collective action, their current contract can be improved upon significantly.  As a dining worker and Local 26 member, Taibot and his co-workers, who form the union, have an opportunity to take this action when their contract expires this August. The passion Taibot demonstrates as he speaks to both his union co-workers and student organizers cannot be understated—it is no longer acceptable to him, nor to any of his coworkers, for them to be paid less and worked harder than dining workers at Harvard and MIT. 

Photographed by Garrett Diegnan

“For the people who are sick, the bosses don’t call anybody,” Taibot mentioned, detailing the harsh reality of being constantly understaffed and overworked during the COVID-19 pandemic. “You know, I checked numbers at Stetson East [the first week this February],” he continued, “twenty-five open positions and [one of the managers] only contracted three people.” The grim truth is that Northeastern management is more concerned with cutting costs than ensuring a humane and sustainable workplace for their employees. In fact, it has become commonplace for the dining hall workers to constantly have their positions changed after 4:00pm to fill voids at other locations— none of which, of course, is permitted by their most recent contract.

While Northeastern management seems content on fabricating clauses to change workers’ schedules, Taibot and his coworkers emphasize that the language actually contained within the contract is ignored altogether. “For instance,” he began, “if I work 20 hours, I am supposed to receive all benefits. Yet I know [some of my coworkers] who are working 21 or above and aren’t getting paid on their break.” Although this frustration is constantly echoed by the dining hall workers at large, Chartwells’ response remains constant: the students are more important than the workers.

This attitude was perhaps most prevalent just a month ago on January 29, when the largest blizzard of the winter season prevented Taibot and his coworkers from getting to campus in a timely manner. Yet when all but one worker managed to persevere and arrive on schedule, the section of the contract guaranteeing time and a half pay during snow emergencies was entirely disregarded.  Once again, the union had to file a grievance.

Photographed by Garrett Diegnan

The demands of José Taibot and the rest of the dining hall workers are clear. “Number one, we need all the people to have a guaranteed 40-hour schedule here,” he said, taking aim at the provision in the current contract that spoke of their workers’ schedules ultimately revolving around business needs. “Number two, it shouldn’t be a question whether or not we get paid as much as the other dining employees over at Harvard,” he noted.

“It’s important that the students and the workers remain united, because when we take the fight for justice to Columbus Avenue and the office of President Aoun, we need all the leverage we can get,” he said. Taibot’s concerns are warranted: when the dining hall workers first took a stand to vote on joining Local 26 back in 2012, Northeastern was ready to hire the notorious union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis and only backed down after overwhelming student support through the first rendition of Huskies Organizing with Labor (HOWL), a coalition of campus groups that stood at 24 organizations at the time and currently drawing near 50. 

It’s undeniable that direct action such as student walkouts and sit-ins in administrative buildings were instrumental in their success. As their contract’s expiration date of August 31 rapidly approaches, it is essential that this extensive level of solidarity between the student body and the dining hall workers is achieved once again.