Capitol cafeteria boycott ends as company accepts union contract

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A 15-week union boycott of three cafeterias at the Minnesota state Capitol complex came to an end Oct.12 when the new contractor operating the cafeterias agreed to accept a union contract.

As part of the settlement, workers at the cafeterias — who previously were represented by UNITE HERE Local 17 — now will be represented by Teamsters Local 792.

One union turning over jurisdiction of a bargaining unit to another union is unusual, noted Local 17 President Nancy Goldman, but “this made sense.”

She noted that the contractor, Taher, Inc., “already had a relationship with the Teamsters” and that the settlement achieved the primary goal: “the cafeterias at the Capitol need to be union contracts.”

The boycott began the first week of July after Taher, Inc., won a bid to operate three cafeterias at the Capitol complex but refused to recognize Local 17, which had represented the cafeteria workers since 1958. Taher discharged 18 long-term cafeteria employees June 30.

The boycott picked up support at a July 11 rally when unions representing 30,000 state employees — AFSCME and MAPE — said their members would boycott the three Taher-run cafeterias at the Centennial Building, Department of Transportation, and 600 Building.

As the boycott moved from summer into fall, Local 17 President Goldman embraced a creative solution to keep the cafeterias as union shops and preserve workers’ jobs and benefits.

She accepted assistance from Teamsters Local 792, which had contracts elsewhere with Signature Dining, a division of Taher, Inc. (including cafeterias at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources building and the Department of Administration).

Larry Yoswa, principal officer for Teamsters Local 792, noted that he had “working agreements” with Taher, Inc., CEO Bruce Taher. “I’ve got cafeteria people all over the state with Signature Dining, which is a subdivision of Taher.”

Yoswa offered to help facilitate a meeting between Goldman and Taher. Yoswa also suggested that one solution to the impasse between Taher and Local 17 might be for Teamsters Local 792 to represent the workers at the three cafeterias in the dispute. “As talks progressed, that’s where it went,” Yoswa said.

“Both sides were looking for a graceful way out,” Yoswa noted. “The important thing that I saw and Nancy saw was we’ve just got to keep [the three cafeterias] working union and protect [the] workers.”

Goldman and Yoswa described series of meetings that facilitated the turnover.

First, Goldman and Taher met alone. A following meeting included Yoswa. The settlement that emerged provided that Taher would voluntarily recognize Teamsters Local 792 as the bargaining agent for the workers at the three cafeterias through a card-check. In addition, Taher would find positions for the discharged Local 17 workers somewhere at one of his cafeteria facilities.

Next came the workers’ chance to weigh in on the proposed settlement. Taher, Goldman and Yoswa met first with the workers currently working at the cafeterias. Taher explained he would voluntarily recognize the Teamsters as their bargaining agent if they signed Teamsters cards.

“They all signed cards,” Yoswa reported. “They became part of the existing contract I have with Taher, Inc. doing business as Signature Dining.”

Then on Oct. 17, Taher and Goldman met with the picketing workers. Taher spent an hour with the workers, Goldman reported.

“He has to offer work to the people who were picketing,” Goldman reported about the settlement. She noted that Taher has phoned her to provide updates about job offers to the discharged workers.

Goldman emphasized how the “incredible support from AFSCME and MAPE” helped sustain the boycott and apply economic pressure on Taher. “Their solidarity seriously impacted the business.”

“The lesson Taher learned is that where there’s a union contract… he’s going to put in his bid accordingly,” Goldman noted. “He’s not going to go down this road again.”

Yoswa praised both Goldman and Taher for sitting down and talking after weeks of conflict and stalemate. “I certainly take my hat off to Nancy for working with Bruce and to Bruce for working with Nancy,” Yoswa said. “I felt like the mediator and helped the two parties come together.”

“What I needed to do was get this thing settled and make sure those workers remained under a union contract,” Goldman concluded. Giving up Local 17’s jurisdiction, she added, “was the absolute right thing to do.”

Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council. Visit the CLUC website, www.minneapolisunions.org