Local 26 Union Rallies to Protest MIT’s Café Closures

Zinn: “It’s because of us this university functions.”

On Sept. 7, the Local 26 union, which represents MIT Dining staff, held a rally in front of the Strata Center to protest MIT’s handling of the Steam and Koch café closures. Displaced staff, current workers, and supporters assembled to air their grievances with MIT Dining management.

Kevin Swindle, a dining employee, said that MIT did not even warn the employees of their plans to shut down the cafés. “Three to four weeks ago, we learned secondhand through the union that they were closing the Steam and Koch cafés, and eliminating nine positions,” Swindle said during the rally. “MIT didn’t even have the nerve to tell us—we learned secondhand.”

In negotiations with MIT, the Local 26 union claimed that MIT laid off workers to reduce expenses after an external consultant recommended cost-cutting measures. Swindle said that the recent closures were not an isolated case, as he asserted that “there’s a history of [MIT] closing cafés.”

However, MIT Dining claimed that they have done their best to accommodate the laid off workers by relocating them to other dining halls or cafés. 

Regardless, Swindle was still unsatisfied with MIT’s plan because it would not give him steady work hours.“Personally, it’s affecting me and my family because I’ll have different days off,” he said. “I also had a part-time job to supplement my income because my wife only works part time, and I had to give that up because of the changes in my schedule.”

Jonah Zinn, one of the Local 26 rally organizers, agreed. “The message to MIT is very clear,” Zinn said. “Our work matters, and it’s because of us that this university functions.”

The Local 26 union also claimed that MIT Dining did not honor the new contract they had agreed upon. Zinn stated that “one week after [Local 26] ratified [their] contract in good faith, [MIT Dining] announced that they would be laying off 25 percent of the units of MIT retail.”

But the café closures also go beyond the workers’ job security—Zinn said that these shut downs will impact students as well. “It’s a student issue because it means that students don’t have access to as many options,” Zinn stated. “To me, that’s not very fair.”

Aliyah Chutkan ’26, expressed her frustration with the Steam and Koch cafés closing because of how students will be forced to buy into more expensive MIT meal plans. 

“Last semester, I went to Steam at least once a week, sometimes twice, a couple times three times, because the workers there are the best,” Chutkan said. “And now at the same time they’re closing cafés on campus, they’re forcing students in dining halls to take out more expensive meal plans.”

Hannah Margolis, a graduate student in the Department of Biology, said that MIT’s recent decisions regarding the closures will have disproportionate ramifications on the laid off workers. “We all know MIT has plenty of money,” she said. “What MIT does to you directly affects you and directly affects us.” 

“MIT wouldn’t run without [the dining workers]” and that “[MIT students] would be very hungry without [the workers] at all,” Margolis said.