Students deliver petition in support of food workers’ contract negotiations


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

Students gather before marching to Sodexo administrative offices in solidarity with food service workers at NU. The group presented a petition calling for measures such as better treatment of workers and a guaranteed 40-hour work week as workers begin to renegotiate their contract with Sodexo.

Drew Gerber, Assistant Campus Editor

More than 50 students marched to the offices of Sodexo management in Sargent Hall on Monday afternoon to demonstrate solidarity with Northwestern food service workers as they enter contract negotiations with the company, which workers say has been cutting hours and overworking employees.

Gathering first in front of the Technological Institute, student organizers rallied the group before walking up Sheridan Road to Sargent Hall, where the group was met by Sodexo administrators and University representatives, including Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, associate vice president for student affairs.

Student leaders handed Kirchmeier a petition, which they said had garnered more than 1,000 signatures within the past week in a show of student solidarity with NU’s food service workers. Kirchmeier said she would share the petition with Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, as well as University President Morton Schapiro.

Students also read testimonials reflecting the importance of food service workers to the NU community, as well as the personal connections many students form with the campus dining staff.

“As students, staff, and community members involved in and dedicated to the betterment of Northwestern University and all the lives that the University influences, we are concerned about the current status of all campus dining workers,” the petition stated. “Campus dining staff are overworked, underpaid and deserving of greater treatment.”

In the petition, students voiced their support of the food service workers’ union and their push for measures like a guaranteed 40-hour work week, benefits for part-time employees and increased wages. Additionally, the petition condemned what it said were numerous reports of disrespect by Sodexo supervisors toward food service workers.

Union representatives will be meeting with Sodexo on Tuesday to begin contract negotiations.

Although Sodexo cannot comment on ongoing negotiations, it values all of its employees, Robert Buzz Doyle, the Sodexo general manager for campus dining, told The Daily.

“Sodexo has built positive, constructive and successful working relationships with the more than 30 labor unions that represent over 15 percent of our employees through more than 330 collective bargaining agreements,” Doyle said.

NU food service workers are represented by UNITE HERE Local 1.

In 2011, the food service workers ratified a contract negotiated by their union that included a $10 minimum wage as well as reduced and free healthcare for full-time workers. Union efforts were supported by the NU Living Wage Campaign, a student-led effort to ensure all University employees — including workers subcontracted through Sodexo — make a wage they can live on.

In 2014, students organized to demand better treatment of NU workers following the suspension of Rafael Marquez, a food service worker and a union steward. Although Sodexo suspended Marquez allegedly due to accusations of being under the influence and overexcited during his shift, Marquez claimed his suspension came after he stood up for another worker allegedly being mistreated by Sodexo management. Marquez was ultimately allowed to return to his job, which he credited to the strong student support of his efforts.

Kevin Luong, the Associated Student Government representative for NU’s Asian Pacific American Coalition and one of the student organizers of the event, said he was glad students could bring attention to this issue.

“I’m glad students could share testimonials and bring attention to this issue with their bodies and their voices,” the Weinberg senior said. “By being ready for us, it showed (the administration) is paying attention.”

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