Food provider change prompts concerns, student support for workers


(Daily file photo by Daniel Tian)

Students gather before marching to Sodexo administrative offices in solidarity with NU’s food service workers in November 2015. Students have again organized in support of food service workers as the University prepares for a transition to Compass Group North America.

Alan Perez, Assistant Campus Editor

Veronica Reyes has worked at Northwestern for eight years. Posted at the entrance of Foster-Walker West dining hall, she greets students and asks about their day. Even when she has a bad start to her own day, she said she tries to remain positive.

“I care about the students,” Reyes said, sitting next to her union representative during her Friday lunch break. “I love the place where I work. We love to do our jobs.”

But as the University prepares for its move to Compass Group North America, which will assume food service operations in the fall, Reyes said she is worried about the transition process.

Jon Yates, a University spokesman, told The Daily in an email that Compass will ask all current workers to join the company with the same pay, benefits and seniority, though he did not specify whether that is a requirement in the company’s contract with NU.

“Just hiring people by the new company is not really enough,” said Victoria Scheerer (Weinberg ’11) of UNITE HERE Local 1, the union that represents many of the food service workers. “We want to make sure people have security.”

Reyes said she remained largely uninformed about the University’s search for a new provider. Her supervisors and the administration didn’t inform the staff, she said, which worried her.

She said it was her union and students who kept her informed about developments in the process, including the promise that all staff will be invited to join Compass. Among those students are Isabella Ko and Seri Lee, who helped create a petition in March — before the decision to switch companies was announced — calling on the University to ensure job security and other benefits generally. The petition garnered more than 800 signatures.

Ko, a Weinberg sophomore, said the rest of the NU community is often “disconnected” from the campus’ service workers and often “overlook” them.

“Oftentimes, the organizing (students) are doing and what we’re concerned with becomes very insular,” she said. “We’re not thinking outside of our own positioning. There should be more organizing around workers’ rights and labor justice.”

Students last organized on behalf of NU’s food service workers in November 2015, when more than 50 students protested at Sodexo management offices in Sargent Hall to demonstrate solidarity with the workers as they entered contract negotiations.

For the March petition, Ko and Lee — also a Weinberg sophomore — said they met with members of the committee in charge of the search process to discuss their demands.

Lee emphasized the importance of workers’ roles in the NU community and said many of them form friendships with students.

“I really appreciate the way they’re helping us,” Reyes said. “I love to talk to them, so maybe that’s why they share this (information) with me.”

Students who organized the petition will form a group focused on labor rights, Lee said. Its members believe in the idea of “collective liberation,” Lee said, which recognizes that all injustices and struggles are connected.

For now, however, the group will focus on food service workers and responding to the Friday announcement.

“It’s really important to recognize that workers aren’t just here to work,” Lee said. “They’re human, they’re people with families. They have lives.”

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