Strike possible for food service workers at Detroit’s downtown convention center

Workers at Huntington Place are demanding better wages and health care benefits

Nov 21, 2022 at 1:37 pm
click to enlarge Huntington Place is downtown Detroit's convention center. - Courtesy of Huntington Place
Courtesy of Huntington Place
Huntington Place is downtown Detroit's convention center.

Food service workers at Huntington Place in downtown Detroit are prepared for a “labor dispute” if they don’t get better wages, working conditions, and health care benefits, union leaders said Monday.

The workers’ contract with Sodexo, a food service company, expires on Nov. 30.

The workers are represented by Unite Here, a 300,000-member union of hotel and food service workers.

“We’re more than ready to get to the table,” Nia Winston, president of Unite Here Local 24, said at a news conference. “Sodexo workers need a raise — point blank, period. Sodexo must understand that wages are not keeping up with the cost of living, and workers are not seeing meaningful raises that allow them to finally catch up. We’re tired of that and we want it to change.”

Sodexo workers at other convention centers are preparing for possible strikes. At the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Sodexo workers unanimously voted to authorize a strike. At the Las Vegas Convention Center, Sodexo workers will hold a strike vote on Dec. 7 and Dec. 8.

Sodexo workers at Huntington Place could hold a strike vote if negotiations aren’t fruitful.

“We've had a lot of parties the past six months now. We make sure our jobs get done, but I don’t feel appreciation or respect,” said Kiara Smith, a steward employed by Sodexo at Huntington Place. “If we had a raise, I’d be able to pay my bills on time. The company can see that I’m a good worker, but I want that to be felt too. The way for the company to show they feel that is a strong contract for us.”

Winston said one of her priorities is that the predominantly Black service staff at Huntington Place is treated with respect.

“My understanding is that Sodexo is a company that talks a lot about DEI — Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” Winston said. “In Detroit, where the majority of workers at the Convention Center are Black, we are going to be laser-focused on making sure Sodexo’s values extend from corporate staff to the frontline workers who serve food and beverages every single day.”

At its peak, Unite Here represents about 200 employees at Huntington Place.

In a statement, Sodexo said it respects the rights of employees to unionize.

"We continue to engage in good faith during ongoing (collective bargaining agreement), in a sincere attempt to reach a fair and competitive set of long-term agreements in a timely manner," Sodexo said. "Bargaining sessions are scheduled in the weeks ahead, and we look forward to continuing to offer attractive wages and conditions, while ensuring labor competitivity for our clients and consumers."

Unite Here supported workers who went on strike at the Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co.

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