Letter to the Editor: NU should be transparent about dining workers after provider change

Last week the University announced a new dining services partnership that will replace our contract with Sodexo. We are told that the new company, Compass, will ask our employees to remain and keep their pay and benefits intact. I have no opinion as to one supplier versus another, but it wasn’t so long ago that the Sodexo employees won, with the aid of some students, a hard-fought battle to unionize, thus procuring better wages, benefits and conditions. This was a major step in improving the conditions of these folks who are central to the well-being of our students and the University.

Several questions, in my opinion, remain. Since the union contract is with Sodexo, will Compass recognize the union and grant them bargaining rights? If not, this is a major setback for the staff. The contract was not with the University itself, so part of this answer will depend on pressure brought to bear by the University. A second question is whether the continuation of salary and benefits is for the remainder of the contract, for the transition period or some other time period to be determined. One Sodexo employee told me their impression of this timeline was at best vague. They inferred the continuity would last only through the transition period, and jobs were only guaranteed during this so-called trial period. What does that mean? What are the terms of continuity for employment and contracts, with all the wages and benefits? Some transparency here would be much welcome to the employees and those of us in the University community who care about the well-being of the staff.

In my 50 years at Northwestern, I had never seen students be part of an organizing campaign for workers before the unionization. I saw the faces of the students when the union contract was settled, and I saw the happiness in the faces of my favorite Sodexo workers when I mentioned that some of these students were ones I knew and taught.

I raise these questions concerned primarily with the status of the workers, not necessarily the relative merits of the two companies. I worry less about the preparation of the food and the brands that are sold than about the people doing that preparation, as well as the other employees who clean up after our students, take money at the registers and run Wildcards through the scanner. It would be a sad thing if the victory of the union was undermined by the replacement of Sodexo by Compass. I wish that the upper reaches of the University administration would let us know just what lies behind this new arrangement.

— Jeff Rice, Weinberg ’72
Senior Lecturer, African Studies