Hospitality workers strike new agreement with USC

The university has officially come to an agreement with USC Hospitality and Auxiliary Services workers to raise wages, provide more hours and supply affordable health care.

The agreement was officially enacted on March 13 after it was voted on and ratified by union members. Among those who voted, 92 percent were in favor of the terms within the new agreement.

Immediately after signing the ratification workers received a $400 bonus and a 75-cent raise, up from their current hourly wage of $11. Workers were also granted a 55-cent raise every July. The union was originally advocating for a wage of $15 per hour, and at one point rebuffed a 25-cent raise  offer by the university.

The new contract includes healthcare coverage, which allows all hospitality workers as well as their spouses and dependents access to healthcare professionals for $50 a month. The previous contract had expired on June 30, 2014.

With the advent of this new agreement, employees plan to maximize hours they are scheduled to work. The new contract stresses the importance that all shifts assigned to workers must be completed by the workers themselves and not by managers who send employees home early.

The new agreement was created in response to long-term protests and rallies held by UNITE HERE Local 11 labor union workers with support from the on-campus Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation.

Ofelia Carrillo, communications representative for UNITE HERE Local 11, said she was happy about the specific changes made to the contract.

“The contract in essence lines out and regulates workplace conditions, wages, health benefits and job descriptions,” Carrillo said. “It’s incredible. It’s amazing. I think a lot of the wages and the conditions at USC were something we had to organize and had to really fight.”

According to Carrillo, the students that teamed up with workers were a big help in pushing for a new contract.

“The students were extremely important in getting this together,” Carrillo said. “Some of our worker leaders have said and some of our student leaders have said that this really changes the dynamic on campus. This demonstrated that students care about workers and workers care about students and that when they’re united they can make real change happen.”

Genesis Diaz, a UNITE HERE leader and Trojan Grounds cashier, explained that the contract shows the students support USC workers.

“I feel great about the new contract,” Diaz said in a statement from a press release by the UNITE HERE administration. “It has changed the whole campus. It showed the university that we’re united; the workers and students are a family.”

Sarah Newell, a member of SCALE, said students contributed to union efforts after being told about the workers’ unfair labor conditions.

“We talked with students about the average wage of USC workers [which] is about $18,000 dollars a year, [that] they are living below the poverty line [and that] we have workers that are working homeless,” Newell said. “Once students found out, the mobilization really happened on its own. The campus cares about their workers and that’s what they let USC know.”

Newell explained that workers faced numerous difficulties while advocating for a pay increase.

“USC didn’t make this offer first,” Newell said. “[USC] didn’t want to offer pay increases. They came into it pretty clearly with the goal of not costing the university any additional money even if that resulted in the suffering of their workers. It was only through repeated organizing, advocating on the outside that workers were able to let USC know, ‘Hey, if you don’t treat us better we aren’t going to stand for it.’”

The university did not immediately respond to requests for comments regarding the contract agreement.

Paco Torres, a kitchen worker from Cafe 84, said he did not anticipate as much backlash from USC during negotiations.

“I honestly never thought it was going to be like this,” Torres said. “I never thought it was going to be like really a battle. I thought ‘O.K. this is USC, hopefully this won’t be this much of a battle,’ but it was. It was a battle and hard struggle, but we accomplished something. I feel like we did something pretty good.”